Today’s university students can choose from a wide array of student housing, be it on or off campus. Despite the availability of options, student housing can be a complicated affair when religious and cultural beliefs clash – especially for the LGBT student.
Universities looking to ensure the safety and comfort of their students may offer student housing options that cater exclusively to women, men, alcohol-free, international students and more.
LGBT rights have been steadily gaining prominence. Reports suggest an increasing number of universities are offering – or thinking of offering – LGBT student housing, with some slamming the move as divisive, rather than fostering an inclusive culture among students.
But others argue that providing exclusive student housing options, especially for LGBT students who may not be openly accepted by all communities, essential to ensure their safety and well-being.
Universities that offer LGBT student housing
It’s common practice in many universities worldwide to have separate student housing for men and women. In the US, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has its own black and African American student housing floor. The University of Aberdeen in Scotland offers dedicated blocks for alcohol-free accommodation.
Meanwhile, in the US, the University of Southern California (USC) offers “trans-friendly” student housing. Its website notes that it offers gender inclusive housing, a living option in which USC students can live with roommates regardless of gender identity or sex assigned at birth.
It also has a ‘Rainbow Floor’, a special interest residential community for LGBTQ+ students, as well as single residence for transgender/gender queer students who wish to have a single room within the University’s Residential Communities.
The University Times (UT) – an Irish student newspaper – reported that the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland recently launched a rainbow student housing initiative for the LGBT community, spurring debate from both students and politicians over its merits.
According to The Irish Examiner, almost 200 students from over 30 countries have applied to live in the new housing, which specifically caters to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allied communities. It’s said to be Ireland’s first to offer this initiative.
As UT reported: “Mayor of Clare Cathal Crowe called the rainbow housing project ‘segregationist’ and ‘a bit daft’ in a post on his Facebook page, and said: ‘It’s 15 years since I graduated from UL and I considered it to be an open and tolerant campus. This entire idea seems a bit OTT (over the top) and retrograde.’”
Conversely, in a statement to UT, Colin Lynch, Vice-President for Academic Affairs of UL Student Life, said the scheme “is based on research and is enabling UL to become a more progressive campus”.
“It is the same concept as living with friends, people in the same year as you, alcohol free housing, female only housing, male only housing, Irish speaking and international housing,” he said.
Is LGBT student housing divisive?
— @DCHomos (@DCHomos) May 23, 2016
As student housing based on gender and race are commonplace, is the backlash received by universities mooting LGBT student housing warranted?
In 2016, Chris Godfrey opined in The Guardian: “Verbal and physical hate crimes are still a common reality for a significant number of young LGBT people, many of whom see university as a chance to escape their tormentors and mix with like-minded people. Housemate compatibility is a lottery, though, and moving into student halls to live with total strangers is a daunting process, even for the most tenacious undergrad.”
He added: “Feeling safe in your own home is a pretty basic expectation, and LGBT-exclusive housing gives these students a space where they can be themselves, totally free from judgment and bigotry. They don’t need to panic about unprovoked, aggressive reactions if they come out to flatmates, or check themselves for fear of being a bit too queer (there’s no such thing). It’s especially important for the trans community, which contends with the some of the highest levels of violence and discrimination.”
Students from the LGBT community still face numerous hurdles in society. Providing them with safe student housing with like-minded folk or with others from similar backgrounds, can prove useful in making them feel included.
While critics – even those from the LGBT community – argue that exclusively LGBT-housing is more divisive than inclusive, it would be worth learning from the experiences of universities that have already implemented such initiatives over its benefits before passing judgement.