A number of Franklin College students are continuing their push for gender-neutral housing after a request for a co-ed room was retracted.
Last semester, sophomore Sydney Fears and junior Levi Spaniolo created a petition for gender-neutral housing, or housing in which gender is not used to determine floor placement. The petition received 88 faculty and staff signatures and 250 student signatures.
“In addition to overwhelming support via signatures, we often heard responses such as, ‘We need this on campus,’ and, ‘Why don’t we already have this?’” Fears said.
The purpose of the petition was to “inquire how many students want gender-neutral dorms on campus” and ultimately create a safe space for transgender and other LGBTQ students on campus.
Jacob Knight, director of housing, reviewed the petition and led a discussion about the potential ways to progress the movement.
“The administration commended us for proving there is student interest,” Fears said. “However, they highlighted that the next step is to find students that would be willing to live on the floor. We discussed possibly distributing a survey to residents to assemble students that would like to live on this floor.”
Four students not only expressed this desire but received permission for a section together in Johnson Dietz this school year. But three weeks before the semester started, each of the four students received an email saying they would no longer be able to share the room.
Sophomore Owen Shrock was one of the students that requested the co-ed room, along with seniors Lauren Kinneer, Alexis Bullock and Claire Sheets. Shrock said they wanted to show the college that a co-ed room would work.
“[Knight] had put a special thing in for us so that we were actually officially on the housing accommodation website in one room together,” Shrock said. “On Aug. 3, all four of us got an email saying, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not going to be able to do the housing assignment anymore.’”
Shrock and Kinneer were placed in a separate section, and no roommates were added to either section as compensation for the sudden change, which Shrock said he appreciated. Still, he feels the decision was too abrupt.
“[Knight] just pulled out on the last minute like two weeks before class, so it was weird because he said we could and then we couldn’t,” Shrock said.
Spaniolo, a co-creator of the petition, is currently making the transition from female to male. He said he was upset upon hearing the situation and shared that he and Fears are planning a meeting with administration to discuss the issue.
“I was saddened to hear the news; however, until I hear the administration’s reasons for the move, I cannot make an informed statement on the issue,” Spaniolo said.
Knight said he could not comment on the specific housing accommodation and the reason behind the change, but said one concern with gender-neutral housing deals with the facilities themselves.
“We really need a good idea of how much of that housing is enough so that we’re meeting the need, but at the same time not overshooting and then not ending up in a place where we have a bunch of beds that nobody wants, and we don’t have enough beds that want general housing,” Knight said.
Because each residence hall, with the exception of Johnson-Dietz, is designed for single-sex floors, current facilities could require an update to meet the needs of a gender-neutral floor.
Fears and Spaniolo said they believe Elsey Hall is the best solution for the dilemma, as well as the most ideal location for gender neutral housing.
“In Elsey, we could denote one bathroom as male, one bathroom as female, and the third bathroom as gender neutral,” Spaniolo said. “Another reason Elsey is ideal is because underclassmen can easily opt into these dorms.”
In the meantime, Knight said the administration is still looking at its options to make gender-neutral housing feasible. A survey may be conducted in the future to collect more feedback, but no additional details have been worked out.
“Knowing what our housing process and cycles look like, I mean, I think it needs to get done this fall,” Knight said. “I feel like that petition showed us enough interest, so let’s explore what that could look like if we do that on our own campus and what the timeline is for the implementation.”