This is my first semester living on campus in Storrs, and it may be your first as well, in which case I hope your entry was as safe and welcoming as everyone deserves. If you’re from a small town, the transition from home life during the height of a pandemic to a school of 11,000 residential students packed into one space might be overwhelming; by all means, it is for me.
Under normal circumstances I might succumb to the pressure of a new environment, into which you’re suddenly let loose with nothing but a key, some storage cubes and an equally confused roommate. I might have let myself get lost in the feeling of being lost, hoping that if I just become dazed enough, I might blink and see myself at the end of the semester — but I didn’t, and this is because of an arrangement called gender-inclusive housing.
Gender-inclusive — or GI — housing as it exists at UConn is simple enough: You are assigned, somewhere within one and a half floors of Brock hall to a random roommate, unless otherwise specified, regardless of gender identity. GI housing is completely co-ed — pan-ed, if you will — even the bathrooms. One might think that this is about where the distinctions end, but they haven’t seen the GI floor lounge.
Skateboards and pride flags strewn along the walls, reproductive health products both available for use and blown into balloons sporting marker-drawn faces, tapestries of inside-jokes unavoidable by peripheral vision — the GI lounge is an analog for the broader harmony of the community that decorates it. It’s a space where everything is everyone’s, and yet you can expect with complete confidence that your boundaries and your needs will be respected and upheld by your neighbors.
Like typical housing arrangements, we go out to eat together, skate together and test friendships over Super Smash Brothers together — we’re a community. Unlike other communities, though, in GI you can meet someone new and talk through the night with them about memories you didn’t even know you kept. Here, the poignant sting of shame that queer and trans people can feel in settings dominated by cisgender, heterosexual people melts away. The one thing confining the culture of sharing, trust and respect exemplified by GI is a floor and ceiling, which is not only extremely limiting for queer and trans students who want a safe living space, but for everyone who wants to live in on campus sans gender. It would be for the benefit of all community members if UConn were entirely gender-inclusive.
I say gender-inclusive not just as a residential category, but as a philosophy. Having limited options for housing is a serious material issue, make no mistake. It is wrong to make gender-nonconforming students have to sacrifice a learning community or honors housing just because they want a floor on which they feel safe. There are other ways, however, in which UConn entrenches a regime of gender roles and patriarchal relations.
To name a less visible but nonetheless significant example, students assigned female at birth (AFAB) still have to pay 25 cents for menstrual products located in select restrooms around campus. Not everyone has the ability to reach out on the go to campus organizations like Period @ UConn, which provides free menstrual products for students; instead they’ll have to preserve the obsolete medium of coinage to access a necessity that should be free.
A gender-inclusive UConn would also restructure the dual justice system that exists for cisgender men and everyone else. According to a report by The Daily Campus, women, queer and trans students have criticized UConn campus police for mishandling cases of assault and other forms of sexual violence, demonstrating insensitivity to cases and failing to create a safe space for survivors during investigations. Not only is this a severe error on behalf of the campus police, but it reflects on the broader institution’s lack of commitment to transforming this university into a safe space for gender oppressed people.
In the Spring of 2021, I helped author a piece of Undergraduate Student Government legislation dubbed “A Statement of Position Regarding the Rights of Queer Students at UConn,” which called for greater protections for gender oppressed Uconn community members. The legislation included in its contents a variety of the issues that queer and trans students face at this school, such as the lack of accessible gender-inclusive housing options, anemic mental health and outreach services, lack of training of faculty and staff and scholastic services like the Student Administration System or Onecard that are wholly unaffirmed to trans students’ gender identities. All of the above are symptoms of the sickness of patriarchy.
The is no shortage of issues that we must rectify in order to make UConn and society at large inclusive to queer and trans people; however, this should not stop us from pursuing those which we can correct in the short-term.
The subject on everyone’s minds when they think of widely propagated trans discourse is public restrooms. Long a subject of transmisogynists to frame transfemme people (a group which includes this author) as predatory or deceitful, this debate exited the popular forum as quickly as Koch brothers money forced it in, however it left few systemic changes to the way people think about gendered bathrooms with it. UConn, too, suffers from this lack of recognition, so much so that the UConn Rainbow center had to publish a map of all gender-inclusive restrooms on campus.
Often single-use and a pain to get to from any given classroom, dorm room or office space, using an all-gender bathroom can be more of a nuisance than a relief due to scarcity and inaccessibility. UConn’s commitment to accessibility will not be sincere unless it takes action to recognize that trans students have just as much of a right to be comfortable in public as cisgender students, and overcomes the social environment that puts a target on gender oppressed people. Vastly more — and someday preferably all — restrooms in UConn should be gender inclusive.
Some may wonder: What if this idea makes people too uncomfortable? That’s a completely valid question, and, in my opinion, another point in favor of expanding GI housing. If all students, not just members of the LGBTQ+ community, have the option to choose GI housing, this will further normalize practicing gender-inclusion in public spaces, bathrooms included.
The same way residential students check criteria denoting which sorts of students they are comfortable living with, they should also be able to indicate that they are comfortable living with a student of any gender. This at least provides a baseline comfort to gender oppressed students who might otherwise have to worry about how they will be perceived and treated in a predominantly cishet environment.
Someone who is not likely to “check the box,” so to speak, of gender inclusivity might feel that way for a variety of reasons. One might be that they have reservations about living with a cishet man, which is completely valid in a culture of widespread patriarchal violence. Another is that they uphold transmisogynistic views about gender oppressed students, which is not valid because, in laypeople’s terms, that sucks. Either way, forcing a living situation that makes gender oppressed people uncomfortable or more likely to be subjected to violence is extremely contradictory to the goal of inclusivity, and could be completely avoided by an opt-in system for GI housing.
While it is important to discuss how contemporary views of gender and the social role of gender stem from the nuclear family constructed by capitalism and exported by colonialism, this article is long enough. If it should conclude with anything, it should do so by once again evoking community.
The sense of community in GI is by far my favorite thing about UConn, and one that I hope to enjoy as long as I attend, regardless of living situation. One underrated feature of community is that it creates the ability to soberly object when one violates another’s consent in any manner, and in turn foster the collective project of growth by taking accountability. Accountability further begets safety and harmony by correcting offenses, and who doesn’t want that?
It’s thus my final opinion that, in order to rebuild this institution into one that holds the safety and well-being of its community paramount, we must first look toward inclusivity.