One petition making its rounds on campus could make history at Franklin College.
The petition, which currently has more than 250 signatures, set out to inquire how many students want gender-inclusive dorms on campus in at least one of the following ways: a whole floor in Elsey Hall, a whole floor in the Dietz Center, or the entirety of Johnson-Dietz.
As the brainchild of sophomore Levi Spaniolo, the petition is one way students are seeking input from their peers on whether they would support gender-inclusive housing, or housing in which gender is not used to determine floor placement.
Spaniolo is currently making the transition from female to male, and shortly after coming out to his teammates on the track team, he started the housing accommodation process. The accommodation form requires students to verify and defend their case to receive accommodations, whether it be for their sexuality, an injury or an illness.
“I found out from others who’ve had to go through this process that they didn’t know they would have a safe place to live until the end of July or beginning of August,” he said. “To me, that’s shocking because you’re not sure if you’ll be able to feel safe where you are. That’s not good.”
Now, Spaniolo is taking all the necessary steps to ensure students like himself can feel safe in the community they live in one day.
During a Franklin College Pride Association meeting, Spaniolo and alliance members met with Dean of Students Ellis Hall and Director of Residence Life Jacob Knight to discuss the possibility of adding gender-inclusive housing.
“They’ve been trying to push this forward for the past three to four years,” Spaniolo said. “We found out this year that we still wouldn’t have it for next year.”
Knight said he’s visited several campuses across the country that offer gender-inclusive housing communities and sees the value that it adds to student experiences. But Knight added that Franklin College has not seen enough demand until this year.
“We have worked with students with a variety of identities to do housing placements that really meet their needs,” he said. “It has been done prior to this year, but it’s always been an individual request.”
Knight said that if gender-inclusive housing had been offered on next year’s housing application, the Residence Life Department would not have had as many individual accommodation requests.
“If you can live in a community that doesn’t use gender to determine your roommate or if you can be placed on the floor, I think that has a lot of value conceptually,” he said. “I have known about this. Residence Life programs across the country have started offering those over the last decade — maybe even longer than that.”
Indiana currently has two schools that offer these housing accommodations: Indiana University and Purdue University.
“We’ve looked into it on our own as a Residence Life program. I think it’s always been we just haven’t had a lot of student need or want expressed to us prior to this year,” Knight said. “We’re pretty understanding of what that community looks like on other campuses.”
If Franklin were to add a gender-inclusive community, Knight said all students would have the opportunity to apply to live in the community. Room placements would still be based on gender — males with males, females with females, in individual rooms.
Until the time comes, Knight said he will continue to work with students and faculty to assess the options.
“We will want to do it right when we’re ready to do it,” he said.