Will Obama Letter Force Gender Neutral Housing at UNC?

The battle over transgender bathrooms has moved onto college campuses as universities explore ways to implement Obama’s gender-inclusive housing initiative for transgender students. Reuters reported on Friday that the Title IX ‘dear colleague’ letters mailed to all US Universities and school districts in May to force educational institutions to accommodate and be accountable for transgender students. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Title IX, which prevents discrimination based on sex, includes for the first time sexual identity and sexual orientation. The letter directs that schools must allow transgender students to access housing consistent with their gender identity and universities may not require transgender students to stay in single-occupancy accommodations unless a student requests for such accommodations. Universities are studying the letter to understand how it may impact campus bathrooms and housing options. The Department of Education has threatened the loss of federal funding and lawsuits, similar to the one Loretta Lynch filed against North Carolina, if colleges do not comply with the Obama Administration’s understanding of Title IX.

According to The Daily Caller, a number of colleges have already implemented on-campus gender-inclusive housing while others are working quickly to create new housing options for students returning in the fall. Schools are offering a wider variety of gender-inclusive housing options intended to give all students the option to live with gay people of the opposite gender, transgender students, and students comfortable with various genders.

Co-ed housingFew Colleges Offer Option in North Carolina

According to a 2016 Campus Pride Report, gender-neutral housing is only available to students living on three private colleges: Duke University, Guildford College and Warren Wilson College. Back in 2013, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to place a ban on gender-inclusive housing at all 17 UNC campuses, mandating that students of different legal sexes cannot live together in any dorm room, suite or apartment of any UNC system campus unless they are siblings or legally married. KeepNCSafe’s research this week found Appalachian State University and UNC-Greensboro are offering special housing for transgenders through a special housing accommodation request form, while UNC-Chapel Hill this fall announced it will offer a new residency program called Pride Place. The residency program is established around the LGBT theme and offers co-ed dorm experience although roommate assignments are still matched by gender listed on the student’s enrollment application.

College officials interviewed by Reuters emphasized they have no plans to phase out traditional gender-segregated housing.

“We have students … who want to maintain spaces where they are with people who have the same gender identity,” said Elizabeth Lee Agosto, senior associate dean of student affairs at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, which has offered gender-inclusive housing since 2007. “It’s important to have the full spectrum.”

Will Students Opt for Gender Neutral Option?

Most millennials  are “generally welcoming” of these new housing options but few students are actually choosing to live in gender-inclusive housing. At Georgia Tech’s midtown Atlanta campus less than 1% of on-campus students opted for the gender-neutral option and only 2.4% of Johns Hopkins students signed up for the gender neutral housing in the second year the university offered the choice. In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll taken April 14 through May 3, 57% of  18- to 29-year-olds believed people should use public restrooms that match the gender with which they identify; significantly higher than the 40% of Americans of all ages who held that view (The poll included responses from 6,723 people).