Transgender students find home in dorms


Doug Bauder, Director of the office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services. IDS File Photo Buy Photos

On the IU housing application, there are three gender options: “male,” “female” and “transgender.” Students who select “transgender” often use a comment box next to the gender choice to add additional information.

Shortly after their housing application is processed, it is routed to Barry Magee, the assistant director of diversity education for Residential Programs and

Magee works with the students to place them in a suitable housing situation.

“We’re required by the University to house all first-year students,” Magee said. “We need to provide housing where all students feel comfortable.”

Magee said bathrooms are the main issue for transgender students, and that he generally tries to place transgender students on floors with gender-neutral private bathrooms.

RPS has started revamping bathrooms in McNutt and Teter quads, converting them into individual bathrooms with a sink, shower and toilet in one private space. Magee said RPS plans to continue these bathroom renovations.

“It’s for all students, but it happens to work for transgender students,” he said.
Most transgender students don’t live on coed floors because most floors are still single-sex, Magee said. Transgender students live on the floor with the gender label they’ve chosen.

He said the second-biggest concern for transgender students is privacy.
“Students may have transitioned and not want anyone to know,” Magee said.

The housing application also provides a place for students to indicate their preferred name. This is especially important for decorative door nametags resident assistants make, Magee said.

“If someone is given the name Mary at birth but is now Larry, you don’t want Mary on a guys’ floor and people wondering how (he or she) got there,” he said.

IU junior Evelyn Smith is a transgender student currently living in Read Center, and she said she likes it enough to have stayed for three years. Smith said she was nervous about the housing process but  said RPS, and Magee specifically, really helped her.

“I was afraid there’d be a lot of drama, but they’ve done it before,” Smith said. “They knew exactly what to do.”

Her freshman and sophomore years, Smith lived in a single with a private bathroom on a boys’ floor in Read. She also participated in activities with the adjoining girls’ floor.
She said she didn’t feel unwelcome on her floor but heard that a few people were gossiping behind her back.

“I’ve been told a few people were badmouthing me,” Smith said. “People who know and have a problem don’t say it to your face.”

This year, she lives on an all-girls floor with a roommate she’s known for a while. Smith said the bathrooms on her floor have communal showers, but describes her floor experience so far as “really cool.”

“In general, housing as a whole has been really cool with me to find a setting that works,” Smith said.

Magee said all RAs receive diversity training, but that more could be done.

“We need much more specific training to help students think about this,” he said.
Doug Bauder, director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services Office, said support groups have formed during past semesters, and students in Collins Living-Learning Center may form a similar group this semester.

Magee said while RPS tries to help students, it can do more in areas such as RA training and evaluating transgender students’ housing experience.

“At the end of the day, we have to try and create a welcoming community for everybody,” he said.

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