UT-Austin introduces expanded gender-inclusive roommate option on campus

Leila Saidane, Senior News Reporter

University Housing and Dining introduced a new gender-inclusive housing option for certain on-campus residence halls starting in Fall 2022, allowing students to select roommates regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

The program, called the Family and Friend Expanded Roommate Option, is part of a two-year pilot made in part by student leaders, student interest groups and University stakeholders, said Mylon Kirksy, senior director of residence life for UHD. Kirksy said the option aims to improve students’ sense of belonging and connection on campus and to match competition with off-campus housing options. The family and friend option will be available in certain rooms in Blanton, Duren, Jester East, Jester West, San Jacinto and Moore-Hill.

“The name ‘family and friends’ seems fitting because that’s who we’re focusing on, students who may be having maybe a family member, maybe a close friend, and if they don’t have a friend we have a roommate matching program that helps them find someone they will be interested in,” Kirksy said. “With this option, it allows for any student to live with another UT student, regardless of gender, sexual or gender identity.” 

The initiative for on-campus, gender-inclusive housing was born after a survey conducted in this year’s State of LGBTQIA+ Affairs report, said Suseth Muñoz, co-author of the report. The report found that transgender students feel only somewhat comfortable expressing their gender identity in on-campus housing, ranking their comfort level at a mean of 3.39 out of 10 — nearly six points lower than cisgender-heterosexual students living on campus, and four points lower than transgender students in off-campus housing. 

Muñoz sat on the President’s Student Advisory Committee, which initially submitted the housing proposal to President Jay Hartzell in spring 2021.

“We recognize this is something that has been in the works for over 10 years due to student activism and student advocacy,” said Muñoz, an English, government and youth and community studies senior. “We’re just glad that queer students now have accessible housing instead of trying to jump through hoops to get these available to them.”

Math and sociology junior Kai Bovik said a gender-inclusive housing option would have made their experience with on-campus housing more streamlined and provided a better sense of community as a trans student.

“It’s really important to have a more formal way for people who are coming to the school to be able to stay with somebody who either matches their identity or is respectful of their identity,” Bovik said. “It’s very purposeful that they called it family and friends housing because they didn’t want to cause controversy. It’s just kind of sad to see that the University isn’t really excited to show up for us publicly, although it is good that they’re setting up some stuff behind the scenes that can help us.”