By Kelly Magee | firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to finding a college that is LGBTQ+ friendly, it is not necessarily about receiving special treatment, but rather finding an institution that teaches acceptance and understanding of all people.
With an increase in the LGBTQ+ population at Flagler College over the past few years, Residence Life decided to increase inclusiveness on campus through the addition of gender neutral housing.
After researching about 250 schools across the nation in order to develop an understanding of gender inclusiveness, Michelle Holland, director of Residence Life, approached her resident advisors with the idea and “it took off from there.”
Gender inclusive housing was first introduced two years ago when Abare Hall opened. The building houses male and female students on the same floor, which made things easier for students since it wasn’t as gender specific as other residence halls on campus.
“I created all of it,” Holland said. “I did the research, I wrote out the proposal, developed the application and the first year individuals of gender inclusive housing, I housed myself.”
The application process for gender neutral housing has been different every year, starting with interested students emailing Holland directly, then being included on the regular housing contract and most recently on the Hammock for the upcoming school year.
The application serves to give Residence Life an idea of who people are comfortable living with, which prevents an uncomfortable environment down the line, Holland said.
Holland said she sought input from Club Unity, an organization on campus that promotes a positive image of the LGBTQ+ community, before officially launching gender inclusive housing.
“It’s easy as an administrator to say, ‘ok, this is what we should do,’” Holland said. “But it’s also important to get what the potential impact is from students.”
Rooms in Abare Hall are suites with two, single-occupancy bedrooms with a shared common space and bathroom. For gender inclusive housing, a transgender person and an ally or non-binary person would share a suite. So far, the system is working well.
“I have not heard any complaints,” Holland said. “So I’m really excited about it. We’ve doubled the number of students from one year to another. And the incoming freshman class will have gender inclusive housing offered to them as well.”
Residence Life will also introduce Flex Housing for the 2019-2020 school year, which means while the suites themselves stay gender specific, a neighboring room could be home to students of the opposite gender.
Flex Housing will be introduced in Abare Hall and Lewis House to help give Residence Life more flexibility in housing students and help to progress to their overall goals in the residence halls.
“It’s helping us build to what we’re hoping to see in the next five to 10 years,” Holland said.
One Resident Advisor, Abby Richardson, is an advocate for gender inclusive housing on campus.
As an RA, Richardson is responsible for ensuring the safety of residents, and that doesn’t change for gender inclusive housing.
“They’re people. Everyone is a person so treat them like you want to be treated. It really isn’t that different,” Richardson said.
Gender inclusive housing has been well received because residents can have a place to call their own and feel safe there, according to Richardson.
“When you go home at night, you want to be able to feel like you can relax. And if you aren’t comfortable where you live, then what’s the point?” Richardson said.
Richardson would love to see gender inclusive housing expand on campus.
“It takes time. It’s not something that changes overnight,” Richardson said. But I think it’s something that would be great in the future to expand on. Especially for underclassmen to come in and have that option for gender neutral housing.”