By Gabrielle Fellows
Youngstown State University does not currently have a policy in place to accommodate student housing needs for those who identify as transgender or non-binary.
YSU housing is gendered, meaning that when a person applies to live on campus or at one of the university housing complexes, they must identify as male or female in order to be assigned a room. The campus currently does not have any co-ed dorms or apartments.
For students who identify as transgender or non-binary — an umbrella term covering any gender identity that doesn’t fit into the category of male or female — finding housing can be difficult.
Danielle Meyer, director of Housing and Residence Life, said the housing and residence program is welcoming to all students regardless of race, religion, color, age, gender, sexual orientation or national origin, but the program only works with transgender and non-binary students on a person-to-person basis.
“Currently a student’s identified gender is pulled from the Banner system and imported into the housing application,” Meyer said. “The students fill out a personal profile with general preferences, and there is a space to include any optional information they wish to share.”
Carol Seawood, property manager at the YSU-sponsored University Courtyards, said they also lack a policy, but the housing staff is willing to work with students who address their needs.
“It’s a situation where we would have to address it case by case to make it comfortable for all the students, not just one particular group of people,” Seawood said. “We try to make sure that everyone is comfortable in their living environment.”
Although Buechner Hall is independently owned, Executive Director Gail Keaty said Buechner accepts all women.
Tim Bortner, president of YSUnity, said the housing and residence program has always been supportive of LGBTQ students — if they self-identify.
“I think that the housing … is very supportive if you’re trans or bi or gay,” Bortner said. “If you tell housing, they’ll do their best to find an LGBTQ supportive roommate.”
Despite this, Campus Pride Index — a website listing LGBTQ friendly colleges and universities — rated YSU’s LGBTQ housing and residence life a 2 stars out of a possible 5.
Many public universities have adopted a program where students have the choice to self-identify as transgender or non-binary on their housing application. If a student does not identify as transgender or non-binary, they have the option of saying that they’d be either comfortable or uncomfortable living with someone who was. Other universities have designated floors or dorms for students who are transgender or non-binary.
YSU currently does not have either.
Meyer said YSU is looking into some of these solutions for the future. She said many of the campuses that have employed these policies require students to live on campus for at least one year, so they need to have accommodations in place for all students.
“In our case, such a small percentage of our students live on campus that many of what some would consider special populations self-select to live elsewhere to meet their own preferences,” Meyer said.
Ashley Salyers, a non-binary student at YSU majoring in education, said they live in the dorms and are comfortable, but they know many students who identify as non-binary who don’t share that feeling.
“It’s very uncomfortable … especially in the shower situation,” Salyers said.
Salyers drew attention to how removing non-binary or transgender students from gendered housing does not solve the issue.
“In education, if there are kids with different needs, you keep them as included as possible in any situation,” Salyers said. “You don’t remove them from the other students and put them on their own unless its absolutely necessary. You keep people with the group, you don’t say lets just split you up because we don’t want to handle you. You fix things.”
“It sounds very strange to me,” MacCartney said. “Like I have to meet some sort of qualifications [to be male] or something.”
MacCartney said YSU needs to clearly state how they handle individuals who are transgender or non-binary.
“When I first decided to come to YSU, my parents considered putting me in the dorms, and [housing and residence didn’t] make it clear how that would work at all, or who I would contact,” MacCartney said. “How would I even know if the people I would be living with would understand it or be OK with [me being transgender], and how would YSU handle any of it?”
MacCartney said he opted to stay at home instead of living in the dorms because of that. He wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of living in a female dorm.
“A large part of me wanted the dorm experience,” MacCartney said. “But they didn’t make it seem too inviting.”
Despite YSU’s status as a commuter campus without residency requirements, Meyer said the university is collecting information to institute transgender/non-binary policy, so housing and residence can be prepared when the need arises.
“We do not openly advertise that this is available because we do not have an official policy on it, so there may be prospective students out there who take the lack of official policy to mean that we would not be open to it,” Meyer said. “And Mr. Howard, our assistant vice president [division of student experience], has gotten in the conversation with Carol [Seawood] and I, and he wants to sit down and discuss that [this] is all moving in the right direction.”
There is a possibility that Wick and Weller houses could serve as gender neutral housing.
Meyer said the university is willing to do what they can to accommodate their residents in the meantime.
“We would work with any individual student to accommodate needs as they come up,” Meyer said.