The Easterner

First gender-inclusive floor open to students

Director+of+the+Pride+Center+Nick+Franco+sits+at+his+desk+in+Showalter+Hall
Director of the Pride Center Nick Franco sits at his desk in Showalter Hall

Director of the Pride Center Nick Franco sits at his desk in Showalter Hall

Courtesy of Easterner Archives

Courtesy of Easterner Archives

Director of the Pride Center Nick Franco sits at his desk in Showalter Hall

By Richard N Clark IV, Multimedia Director

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A gender-inclusive housing accommodation will find its home on the 10th floor of Dressler Hall starting fall 2018, despite the Trump administration revoking protection for transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

Gender-inclusive housing is an option in which two or more students share a room and community bathrooms regardless of their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, according to the EWU Housing and Residential Life website.

“This allows incoming students who are new to the university an opportunity to have the option of having a gender-neutral shower, which is currently the only one in the residence halls,” EWU Pride Center director Nick Franco said.

Prior to this fall, there were no gender-inclusive showering options on campus for students except in Patterson and Hargreaves halls, making the showers unrealistic to use for most residents.

While many colleges across the nation offer suite-style housing options that are gender-neutral, those options are typically filled by upperclassmen or are located off campus, similar to Brewster Hall.

“This [the new housing model] is a really unique set up, in comparison to any other university in the state of Washington, this is not how they are doing it,” Franco said. “The model that we are using is just not typically done.”

The change came almost one year after students from Eagle Pride held a demonstration in the Campus Mall, where they advocated for more gender-inclusive showers on campus.

In a series of interviews for The Easterner on Sept. 27, 2018, students at the demonstration stated their concerns.

“I struggled with feeling safe on campus,” then senior Mels Felton said. “The only bathrooms I could use and feel comfortable in are all the way out in Patterson and Hargreaves.”

The demonstrators were wearing bathrobes and holding shower caddies to show what they would have to wear and carry to get to a shower they felt comfortable using.

The demonstration prompted a conversation between administrators and housing officials to create the new gender-inclusive floor.

“Of the students who took the survey that housing sent out, 166 who were currently living on campus said, ‘I would live on a floor that looks exactly like that,’” Franco said.

Now, they won’t have to walk across campus to feel safe and comfortable when showering.

Not only will the floor offer transgender and gender-nonconforming students a place to live and feel comfortable in, it will also cut the costs of living for students who are looking for gender-inclusive housing options, especially those paying out of pocket.

A typical shared room in Dressler will cost $6,888 for the whole year for a single student in comparison to the $8,088 for a large single in Brewster, potentially saving students who are looking for gender-inclusive options $1,200.

However, providing a safe space to shower and live does not end the efforts to address the challenges that transgender and gender-nonconforming students face.

People who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming are at more risk to suffer from depression and suicide.

Of the people who took the survey that identified as transgender, 41 percent attempted suicide. This number drastically outnumbers the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population according to a survey conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2014.

Aside from being at a higher risk for depression and suicide, getting one’s own identity legitimized by institutions is a costly and long process.

“Some students can’t afford to get their gender marker changed,” Franco said. “Or even be able to afford or go through the process to change their legal name.”

Previously, EWU’s systems have not recognized preferred names but the school is working on updating them to do so.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded the Obama-era guidance on sexual assault in September 2017, leaving it to the individual states and institutions to interpret Title IX in a Q & A on sexual misconduct from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Title IX states “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

EWU took action to ensure this was the case within the residence halls for transgender and gender-nonconforming residents.

“Whether you’re transgender, whatever your gender identity is or sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter, you are protected under Title IX,” EWU’s Title IX Coordinator Jeff Lamoureaux said. “What that means is, you are provided an equitable education, access to things here at Eastern, and will be treated the same no matter who you are or how you identify.”

With the new gender-inclusive floor, transgender and gender-nonconforming students will no longer be denied the benefits of an education program and will have access to the same level of accommodations as other residents.

EWU was recently awarded the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award by the Insight into Diversity magazine, which is the oldest and largest diversity magazine in higher education. The award recognizes colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The EWU Pride Center is located in Showalter 105 and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. •

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First gender-inclusive floor open to students