In 2014, the University of Missouri’s Department of Residential Life made a decision that would change the way college students viewed campus living. Several changes were made, including private unisex community restrooms and different living options. College Avenue Hall is the first to provide a gender-neutral housing option for students. Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life, said the commitment to providing inclusive, supportive, and safe communities for all students remains a priority.
“These are just another example of our desire to design and create spaces that are aesthetic and usable to everyone,” Minor said.
The changes were prompted by a desire to explore additional options for transgender or gender non-conforming students, who had usually been provided with individual accommodations. Eventually, a joint resolution by Mizzou’s student governments led to a formal request for these community options. Once “gender identity” and “gender expression” were added to the University’s nondiscrimination policy in 2014, plans were implemented to prepare the new living community for students by fall of 2015. Students now only need a request and agreement form to live in the gender-neutral housing option.
The decision to create these new accommodations has sparked conversations among MU students. Jazmin Simms, a freshman student studying business at MU, said that the theme of the community goes beyond gender identity. Making sure the campus is inclusive and treats everyone equally is important, as this is a place where young people are sometimes just beginning to consider these important concepts.
Sterling Waldman, previous chair for Missouri’s Gender Sexuality Alliance Network and a freshman studying women’s and gender studies, said that although MU has made improvements, this is only the first step.
“Even the fact that (gender neutral living) is a new concept for most people shows how much work needs to be done and exposure that people just don’t get.”
The attitudes of these students and many like them are what have prompted schools and establishments across the country to intervene and make changes for the safety of all individuals. Waldman said the changes are what prompted them to choose MU
“I wanted to be in a space where I felt safe,” Waldman said.
Residential halls, such as Johnston and Wolpers, feature private unisex community restrooms in which accessibility, gender neutrality, and privacy are the greatest priorities. Minor said the Department of Residential Life is likely to expand gender-neutral living options in the future if the demand supports it.