On the move-in day of his sophomore year, Greer Christy, now a junior at UNC, received a text from his roommate saying she could no longer live with him.
Despite Christy informing his roommate that he was transgender months prior, his roommate's parents decided she could no longer room with him upon their discovery of his identity.
While he was ultimately reassigned to a dorm with a roommate who was comfortable with his identity, his experience is reflective of a bigger issue within UNC's housing policies.
"Carolina Housing assignments are made using the gender field that comes from the student’s official academic record," UNC Media Relations said in an email. "Students can share information with the assignments office to discuss what flexibility there is to assign a student to Pride Place, to a single room, or to another space that helps a student with their housing needs."
As optimistic as these options sound, they are not as attainable as the University paints them to be. For Christy, a Carolina Covenant Scholar, living in a single-occupancy room would be difficult due to the financial limitations of the scholarship.
How are trans students supposed to feel comfortable and validated in their academic environment when their own University does not allow them the decency of living with students of the same gender identity?
After beginning his medical transition, Christy became even more dissatisfied with his living arrangements — he was forced to shower in a girls' hall and remained fearful of the countless awkward situations this arrangement created. Christy has been forced to live in a girls' dorm for the past three years as a result of an archaic UNC System policy.
When I inquired about this outdated policy, Media Relations stated that Carolina Housing must comply with the UNC System Board of Governor's 700.8.1 policy, which states:
“The constituent institutions shall not assign members of the opposite sex to any institutionally owned and operated dormitory room, dormitory suite, or campus apartment unless the students are siblings, parent and child, or they are legally married. This policy applies to housing assignments beginning with the fall 2013 semester.”
The Board of Governors, responsible for this decision, is a group of 24 voting members who govern the UNC System of 16 public universities in North Carolina, including UNC.
Adding to the frustration of this already exclusionary policy, a change was actually suggested in 2013, with the proposal of a bill attempting to establish gender-neutral housing. While this proposition was passed by the Board of Trustees – a group of voting members specific to UNC – the Board of Governors ultimately overturned it, referring to the UNC System's outdated and harmful 700.8.1 policy.
Aside from the Board of Governors’ ignorant decision-making, the solutions that UNC offers for this issue are mediocre at best. Pride Place, a Residential Learning Program geared towards LGBTQ+ residents, is offered as a potential alternative if trans students would like to live in a designated space to “feel safe and empowered through their sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”
While this is a great option for some, when I reached out to Carolina Housing regarding Pride Place, they stated there are only 30 beds in this residential community — certainly not enough to accommodate all trans and non-binary students who would feel ostracized by traditional housing assignments.
Furthermore, trans students should not be forced to make a decision between being placed in gender dysphoria-inducing room assignments and choosing a non-traditional housing option such as Pride Place. They should have the option of experiencing a regular dormitory experience, not a subsection of this catered to LGBTQ students at large.
While Pride Place is certainly integral in providing alternative, safe and accepting housing, it shouldn’t be the sole option for students in order for their identities to be respected.
Christy's experience with UNC Housing is not exclusive to him. Countless other trans and non-binary students are forced to follow these absurd guidelines. The dangers this rule poses to trans students are numerous.
What about a trans woman assigned to a men's dorm, in which none of the men are too keen on respecting her identity — let alone making her feel comfortable in her living environment? This policy does not just invalidate a trans person’s identity, it makes their living arrangement an othering experience while creating potentially dangerous situations.
So, given his experiences with UNC Housing, what does Christy think is the safest option? Gender nonspecific housing – the very thing the Board of Trustees attempted to pass almost a decade ago.
Gender nonspecific housing is a win-win. Students can live with peers of any gender, allowing trans students to ensure they can make the safest housing option for themselves while avoiding students who are anything less than accepting. The Board of Governors needs to reconsider its asinine decision to override this policy and take into account the safety of trans and non-binary students across North Carolina System campuses.
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