As more students identify as transgender and gender non-conforming, colleges are changing housing policies to accommodate them. In Tallahassee, one student group is pushing Florida State University to be more inclusive.
Jay Galante is a senior at Florida State University who's president of Gender Odyssey, a transgender and non-binary student social group. They're pushing FSU to be more proactive in reaching out to transgender and gender non-conforming students who apply to live on-campus.
"Our institution that is meant to protect us and house us should be reaching out to our community and making accommodations on their end," Galante says.
FSU says if a transgender or gender non-conforming student wants to ensure they room with someone who accepts them, they can call the housing office. In a statement, the university says it tries to pair these students with others who have similar concerns or are allies. And alternatively, the college can offer them private suites. Galante says the lack of upfront information on the housing website makes him feel excluded.
"I was so unbelievably close to attending the University of Central Florida, UCF in Orlando, rather than FSU, Florida State University, for the sole and exclusive reason that UCF has transgender-inclusive housing policy and has had it for a while now and FSU does not," Galante says.
Unlike FSU, UCF's housing application asks students if their gender identity differs from the one listed on their application. UCF's Elijiah Mizell says students can then fill out how they'd like to identify.
"So, they can identify as male, female, or neutral. We recognize that's not all the iterations and versions that are out there in terms of how students may identify, but those are the three categories that we're working with," Mizell says.
That means students who identify as neutral will be placed with others who identify that way. The same goes for males and females. Students can also ask to be assigned mixed gender rooms.
"The number of folks who took advantage of this or used this has increased steadily over the years," Mizell says.
In 2008 UCF started asking students how they identified on its housing application. Four students identified as transgender in 2008. This year, 98 students are asking for gender-inclusive housing accommodations. Instead of asking students about their identity, Florida International University's application asks students if they would feel comfortable living in gender-inclusive housing.
"So it in no way commits them to liv[e] in gender-inclusive housing, but it gives us information in the event that we need to try to fill a vacancy in a gender-inclusive housing room," FIU's Andrew Naylor says.
Shane Windmeyer is the founder and executive director of the Campus Pride Index. It first began rating colleges on their policies toward LGBTQ students in 2007. Windmeyer says back then; few colleges provided trans-inclusive accommodations.
"In 2014, we basically had to gut our assessments of the benchmark and raise them for trans-inclusion because what we were finding was that in the period of 2007 to 2014, even the trans community and their needs became more visible in higher education," Windmeyer says.
Windmeyer says over the years, his group has raised the benchmark for colleges based on awareness of the community's needs.
"One of the things we did in particular with trans folks is that we looked at gender non-binary, right? That conversation around non-binary. We were focused on trans-binary people—trans men, trans women," Windmeyer says.
Windmeyer says campus's policies toward transgender and gender non-conforming students have been improving. He says in Florida, there are some stand-out universities like UCF. But, Windmeyer says more universities need to participate in getting assessed by the Campus Pride Index.
"If I had to rate Florida in comparison to other states, I would say that you're middle of the road. You're not quite excelling, and there's room for improvement as a state, for sure. You would probably get a C+," Windmeyer says.
Windmeyer says transgender and gender non-conforming students are starting to become more visible and vocal on campus.
"If we think about it, really an LGBTQ student is a student of color, an LGBTQ student is a person of faith, an LGBTQ student is your star athlete. LGBTQ people cross all intersections of our college campus. But yet we don't necessarily think about them when we think about their safety, their ability to learn, or retaining them. And so I want to make sure for those people who are listening that this isn't just a topic of trans-inclusion or gender-inclusive housing. This is about all students on campus feeling safe enough to learn and to live and grow," Windmeyer says.
As for Jay Galante and the group Gender Odyssey, they will continue pushing for more inclusive housing initiatives at FSU.