Gender Neutral Housing permanent at OU
Amelia Shaw, the Commissioner for LGBT Affairs and the Residential Assistant for Gender Neutral Housing, is proud of the program’s success. “I think we’ve succeeded in doing what we said we were going to do…we said we were going to create an inclusive community, and I think we’ve done that,” she said.
Shaw was first made aware of Gender Neutral Housing at Campus Pride, a summer camp that teaches students how to be leaders on their campus and specifically to make people who identify as LGBT more comfortable. She says the gender-neutral bathrooms at Campus Pride made her realize that OU did not have comfortable housing arrangements for transgendered students.
“Students would have to call in and say, ‘I need special accommodations because I identify as trans,’ and would basically need to tell housing their gender identity and their gender expressions. I don’t think it’s very fair for some people to have to go and do that, when others don’t,” she said.
For example, if a student was born with male genitalia but identifies as female, it would be a struggle to be comfortable in either male or female dorms. Instead, this student would have had to ask for a medical room on the first floor of the dorm.
“Basically, they were trying to make it more comfortable for everyone, but it really just makes it look like they’re medicalizing the condition, to say, ‘Oh, you’re a little different. You need just have a room to your own and be secluded from everyone else,’” Shaw said.
To make her idea of Gender Neutral Housing a reality, Shaw enlisted the help of Mickey Hart, director of the LGBT Center, Jneanne Hacker from Residential Housing, and Dr. Kent Smith, Vice President of Student Affairs.
“I could not have done it without Dr. Smith,” Shaw said. “He put the students before himself and what he thinks the parents would think, because not all parents would understand. So he really put the students first and I admire him greatly because of that.”
Shaw believes her residents are a testimony to the success of the program. “My floor is really here to live here but also to create that safe space, because that’s what they signed up for and they’re invested in the community. When you’re invested in the community you’re more likely to reach out, to come to programs, and to make friends,” she said.
Ryan Judy, a resident of Gender Neutral Housing, agrees. “My favorite part of Gender Neutral Housing is the sense of community and the fact that I can trust people who I live around and not be afraid to talk to them about whatever I need,” he said.
He originally heard about the program last year in one of his classes. “I thought, wow, I definitely want to live there, because I don’t want to live alone, or with another guy roommate. I applied, and me and my friend Hannah got accepted in and we decided we would room together,” he said.
For Hannah Back, the fact that the arrangement encourages communication appeals to her. She also said that it’s a more laid-back atmosphere than living with all girls. “Historically, it has been more difficult for me to get along with girls in close quarters and I figured it would be easier this way,” she said.
Shaw maintains that her floor is just like any other. “People were worried that people were going to be attacked, just because when different genders mixed it was going to cause chaos. I mean, nothing has happened like that. A lot of people’s fears were just unfounded,” she said.
She added that her residents are some of the most involved people that she knows. “People just want to be around people, they want to have these discussions, and I think that’s what makes it so great. I’m really lucky to be a part of it.”