Gender Inclusive Housing Should Always Be Offered

Raven Hudson ’21


Photo by Olivia Forrester ’22

The housing lottery process has been going on for the past few weeks, as signalled by many a frantic Facebook post by rising seniors looking for a fourth apartment mate. There’s a quality to the procedure that’s kind of like house shopping. Maybe that dorm is too much of a commute to Chambers, or that one has hardwood floors instead of carpet. For the most part, though, a student’s choice of dorm is ultimately inconsequential to their ability to go about their daily routine. Every room has a bed, and every dorm has a bathroom and a shower.

For some students, however, it’s not that simple.

After spring break, students were notified that Gender Inclusive (GI) Housing would not be offered for the 2019-2020 school year due to the lack of applications. Gender Inclusive Housing, formerly known as Open Housing, is one of the “themed” options, which also includes the Sustainability Co-Op and Substance-Free housing.

As described by Jason Shaffer, Director of Residence Life, Gender Inclusive Housing is unique because it is a space “where students live together regardless of gender identity, and community bathrooms are not gender-designated.” This housing option aims to accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming students (TGNC) so that they are not forced to use a bathroom that does not correlate with their gender identity.

What happens, then, when this option is taken away?

In writing this, I must acknowledge that I don’t identify as genderqueer in any way, but I do currently live in Open Housing in Duke; I hope to convey the thoughts of students like my roommate and hallmates, who I consulted during this process.

When my roommate heard that the Residence Life Office (RLO) was moving Gender Inclusive Housing to Akers next year—before it got cancelled—they expressed frustration in RLO’s decision to relegate queer students to the edge of campus. Although Akers is not as far from the center of campus as, say, Martin Court B, it is one of the farthest of the non-senior-apartment buildings. If one considers the politics of geography, this decision is not coincidental; the relegation of difference to the margins is a repeated phenomenon.

Another student, Ellie Barlow ’19, argued that the amount of interest should not determine whether the option is offered. In other words, if any students opt for Gender Inclusive Housing, they should be guaranteed that option, given the very real implications that housing holds for trans and non-binary students.

As it is now, GI Housing is located on the third floor of Duke, where half of the hall is suite-style and the other has double rooms. That means that RLO only has to fill half of a hall to enable GI Housing, since those with suite-style rooms have their own bathrooms and don’t need to use the community one. Another consequence of the decision to move GI Housing to Akers is that, without a half-and-half setup, even more students who are willing to use an all-gender bathroom had to apply for it to be renewed. Moreover, since GI Housing is unavailable to first-year students, the pool of potential applicants is already limited.

But this issue is not just about “interest,” it is about the right of students to feel safe in their own dorms. To ask a TGNC student to choose between living on a hall with gendered bathrooms is, in fact, a form of violence in that, aside from the risk of physical violence, it enacts emotional and psychological harm.

Even if these students are able to live on a hall that matches their gender expression, trans students could face potential harassment in using a gendered bathroom. Meanwhile, non-binary students would be forced to choose one or the other. Imagine if you were forced to choose between two options, where neither fully described you, and to choose one would be to stuff yourself into a box you don’t fit in.

In GI Housing, students don’t have to be anxious about going to the “wrong” bathroom because it is established that everyone, no matter their gender identity, will be using the same one anyway.

Some people, however, assert that co-ed facilities endanger students. Recently, small signs were posted around the student Union, reading:

“Separating male and female students in single-gender dorms will

1) Restore modesty

2) Enhance campus security”

As evidenced by such posters, some students feel that mixed-gender dorms are a threat to student decency and safety.

Concerning their first point, I’m not sure whose modesty they want to restore, but historically this term refers to women. I didn’t realize we were in the 1960s; American colleges started implementing co-ed halls in the 1970s, and that seems to be going pretty well still. In any case, at the root of this argument is a logic of slut-shaming that values the opinions of men and the male gaze more than it does women’s own bodily autonomy.

Whose safety are we trying to protect here? If we’re talking about the surveillance of bodies, those of TGNC folks are always being monitored, especially when it comes to bathrooms. Being surveilled doesn’t make one feel safe; it makes you feel attacked.

Their second point seems to be one that pertains to sexual harassment and assault. I wholeheartedly believe that sexual assault is a major problem on college campuses, but I don’t see how co-ed dorms enable or enhance this issue. For one—given Davidson’s current policy—male students would still have access to all dorms whether they lived there or not. Additionally, the site of sexual assault has never been restricted to residence halls.

Finally, along with this assertion about security goes the argument that all-gender bathrooms are inherently more “dangerous” spaces because men will invariably attack the women they share the space with. Not only does this assumption put little faith in men, but it consequently excuses sexual assault as an inevitability, shifting the responsibility from perpetrators on to women who must “avoid getting raped.”

By not offering Gender Inclusive Housing next year, the school is telling its trans and non-binary students that their ability to simply feel comfortable in their own dorm and bathroom is unimportant. And to the students who say that co-ed bathrooms are dangerous, I would ask: Who are you making uncomfortable or unsafe when you insist on single-gender facilities?

Comments are closed.