Gender neutral housing could help students feel safe, succeed - DatelineCarolina

Gender neutral housing could help students feel safe, succeed

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The all male residence hall, McBryde, has traditional style bathrooms with an open floor concept. The all male residence hall, McBryde, has traditional style bathrooms with an open floor concept.
Rukia was assigned to a single in Rutledge after housing changed her McBryde assignment. Rukia was assigned to a single in Rutledge after housing changed her McBryde assignment.

 By: Jenny Iler

    The Human Rights Campaign website claims there are 140 universities across the country that offer gender neutral housing options to students. Gender neutral housing is a style of living where individuals get to choose a roommate or community regardless of gender. No universities in South Carolina  offer such a program.

    Gender neutral housing programs may help students of different genders and sexual orientations to resolve housing issues. Rukia Brooks is a trans-female at the University of South Carolina who has had to work closely with student housing to ensure she feels comfortable living on campus. University housing has no clear policy in regards to trans students, but staff look closely at each case to provide the necessary accommodations.

    Rukia was born a male, but began to express herself as female halfway through her freshman year. She found plenty of support on campus, but she has also been threatened and harassed.

    “It was the first time I ever wore a skirt on campus…and these people ended up pulling up outside of my dorm, Columbia Hall, and ended up harassing me and calling me a bunch of homophobic and transphobic slurs... saying they'd beat me up and hurt me and just awful terrible things and it really terrified me and scared me," she said.  "I just remember after that I kind of withdrew back. I felt like it was too much of a risk here and that kind of scared me.”

     Rukia was assigned to live in the all male residence hall her sophomore year. McBryde is a traditional style residence hall that has community style bathrooms. Rukia explained her discomfort with the assignment and University Housing worked to get her a single room in Rutledge Chapel. It was more expensive, but she said she felt comfortable and safe living by herself.

    USC's Residence Hall Association has discussed the concept of a gender neutral learning community before. Former RHA Vice President AJ Needler saw a need for such a community during his two year term.

    “My role as the VP was to represent the 7,000 students on campus. It may have been a small minority that needed it but we should work to make as many students comfortable as possible,” he said. “The University Housing slogan is 'Home at Carolina'. How can this be a home if there are some students who don't feel safe and comfortable where they live?” 

    Some universities, like Emory, are expanding their gender neutral housing programs, AJ hopes USC will be one of the first SEC schools to start one. There are already gender neutral bathrooms located around campus for students, and he thinks that's the first step.
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