I met most of my closest friends at UT in the Blanton Residence Hall, where I lived my freshman year. Studies show that there are academic and social benefits to living in a dorm during college — especially your first year. Transgender, nonbinary, gender-fluid and other genderqueer students at UT may be hesitant to take this opportunity out of discomfort with the single-gender community bathrooms in most dormitories.
Right now, according to the Gender and Sexuality Center, there are 54 buildings on UT’s campus that have one or more gender inclusive bathrooms. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a school comparable to UT, has six times more gender-inclusive bathrooms than we do. Campus Pride, a organization for LGBTQ+ university students, created a comprehensive list of 265 universities in the US that provide gender inclusive housing, and UT did not make that list.
Although our campus has made great progress in building more gender inclusive bathrooms, we need to continue working to provide ample accommodations for transgender students.
Our administration needs to improve resources for transgender students on campus, especially in our dorms. Astronomy freshman Rian Robison said he would prefer a private or shared bathroom. Robison is living in Kinsolving — an all-women’s dormitory — because of his acceptance to the Women in Natural Science Living and Learning Community. While he is registered in the UT system as a woman, Robison identifies as a man. It is not right to leave him with no option other than to use a women’s community bathroom, even if it is in an all-women’s dorm. If there was a gender inclusive bathroom in the dorm, Robison would feel at ease using that instead.
University Housing and Dining, the entity that manages UT’s dormitories, requires all students, even those identifying as transgender or genderqueer, to pay approximately $3,000 more for a private or shared bathroom. It is unacceptable for students to pay more money to comfortably use the restroom because of their gender identity.
If it is not possible to add gender-inclusive bathrooms on every floor of each dorm with community bathrooms, UHD should accommodate transgender students with private or shared bathrooms at no additional cost. Additionally, transgender students should be given a higher priority for private and shared bathrooms on campus than cisgender students. To make this possible, the on-campus housing application should be expanded to include a section for transgender students to request appropriate accommodations.
UT has made great progress by encouraging proper use of pronouns and pushing for an accepting environment in official university communications and websites. The initiative for building more inclusive bathrooms is a step in the right direction too, but more can be done to help transgender and genderqueer students feel at home at UT. No students should feel uncomfortable living on campus because of their gender identity. Instead, UHD and UT should make a greater effort to provide reasonable housing accommodations for them. Transgender and genderqueer students deserve to have access to gender-inclusive bathrooms around campus and experience the same comfort as their cisgender peers.
Dighe is a Plan II and Neuroscience sophomore from Houston.