When senior Ren Walstrom was entering their sophomore year, they had just begun to identify as non-binary. Signing up for housing, which only let students say they were men or women, became a little complicated.
Luckily, a friend set Walstrom up with a roommate who was a transgender woman.
“We were both looking for a person who we were safe to live with,” Walstrom said. “That could have turned into a bad situation if we were paired with someone who is transphobic.”
Since then, Walstrom and many others have worked with Student Government Association (SGA) and Residence Hall Association (RHA) to create Ball State’s first gender-inclusive housing pilot, where dorms have been set aside for students to opt-in to live together regardless of gender.
There are currently 22 students living in gender-inclusive housing sections in Kinghorn Hall, DeHority Complex, Park Hall and Schmidt/Wilson Hall, according to Assistant Director of Marketing, Communications, and Technology in Housing and Residence Life Chris Wilkey.
Jana Swanson, a senior and a third-year resident assistant, has residents in Park’s gender-inclusive housing.
For the most part, Swanson said dorm life isn’t much different from anywhere else in the building, and most other Park residents don’t notice the gender-inclusive section.
“In my building, it’s honestly not different at all,” the senior exercise science major said. “People just live with who they want to live with.”
Swanson didn’t know she would be assigned to the gender-inclusive pod until summer training. At that time, she was concerned that her residents would be excluded and socially separated from other residents, as did some LGBT students when the pilot was announced.
“It’s definitely been a lot smoother than I had anticipated,” Swanson said.
She said this system of housing mirrors how those moving into an apartment or house choose their roommates.
“[Housing doesn’t] ask questions why,” Swanson said. “They just give you the paperwork.”
This program is what current SGA Chief of Staff Kathy Berryhill visualized last year when she coordinated with SGA and RHA to simultaneously draft legislation putting the pilot in the works.
“I think gender-inclusive housing welcomes all, or at least that’s what I intended it to do,” Berryhill said.
She heard the same concerns Swanson did about the pilot and was worried about the transition, but her fears were gone when the pilot started.
“I haven’t heard any complaints or anyone badmouthing it,” Berryhill said. “All is well.”
For the pilot to continue, Berryhill said more students need to sign up, which involves two roomates visiting the Housing and Residence Life office and signing paperwork confirming they want to live together.
The amount of students interested will be a determining factor when Ball State decides at the end of next semester whether or not to continue the pilot.
“If you can’t fill bed space for a pilot, it’s really hard for them to justify it,” Berryhill said.
Swanson also said the pilot could move forward substantially if there were more awareness that it existed.
Though it’s not guaranteed that the pilot will continue, Walstrom sees the current program as a strong message from Ball State to its gender minority students.
“I think it’s an indispensable part for accommodating transgender students,” they said.
The housing pilot isn’t the last step in improving inclusivity for the LGBT community, Walstrom said. There is still a need for a full-time LGBT resource member and for improvements to the Multicultural Center.
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