Students speak about their experiences living in gender-inclusive housing

‘Those doors were a constant reminder of being different and that even though the entire hall was inclusive.’

In+fall+2021%2C+the+department+of+residence+expanded+the+gender-inclusive+housing+opt-in+option+to+all+of+Freeman+Hall.+Fall+2022+marks+the+second+year+that+Freeman+Hall+is+entirely+gender-inclusive.+The+community+now+has+more+than+60+students+living+there.

Mackenzie Bodell

In fall 2021, the department of residence expanded the gender-inclusive housing opt-in option to all of Freeman Hall. Fall 2022 marks the second year that Freeman Hall is entirely gender-inclusive. The community now has more than 60 students living there.

Mackenzie Bodell, Senior Reporter

Two Iowa State students had contrasting experiences living in gender-inclusive housing, ranging from positive to underwhelming. 

At Iowa State, gender-inclusive housing began as a themed house in Maple Hall in the fall of 2017. The themed house, called the Spectrum Theme House, was only available by request. Spectrum had eight students in the first year. 

In fall 2021, the department of residence expanded the gender-inclusive housing opt-in option to all of Freeman Hall. Fall 2022 marks the second year that Freeman Hall is entirely gender-inclusive. The community now has more than 60 students living there. Freeman Hall was built in 1916, and there is no air conditioning. 

“Freeman Hall is designed to provide a supportive and educational housing option for transgender, non-binary, gender diverse individuals and cisgender allies who are interested in the mission and vision of gender-inclusive housing,” said Meredith Ponder Hanisch, director of communication and marketing for Campus Life.

Ashelyn Davis is a transgender woman who graduated from Iowa State in May 2022. Davis spent six years at Iowa State and graduated with a community and regional planning degree.

Student Experiences

Ashelyn Davis is a transgender woman who graduated from Iowa State in May 2022. Davis spent six years at Iowa State and graduated with a community and regional planning degree. 

Davis spent three semesters living in Freeman Hall. Two of those semesters were back to back in fall 2019 and spring 2020. Davis then went back to Freeman Hall for their last semester in spring 2022. 

Only one floor was gender-inclusive the first semester Davis lived in Freeman Hall. While the gender-inclusive housing was one floor, Davis noted some issues. 

“The floor did feel kind of isolated from the rest of the housing in the building,” Davis said. 

Cleo Westin, sophomore studying journalism, is another transgender woman who lived in Freeman Hall after the whole dorm changed to gender-inclusive. She lived on the top floor of Freeman Hall, named Stonewall, in honor of the Stonewall Riots, for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters. 

The Stonewall floor is community-oriented and specific to students who are transgender. The Stonewall floor was the only floor that had locked doors that needed ISUCards to enter last year, Westin said. 

“Those doors were a constant reminder of being different and that even though the entire hall was inclusive, this floor had to have protection and was segregated from the rest of the building,” Westin said. 

Westin said that whenever she needed to use the restroom or get a drink of water, there were additional steps she needed to take. 

Another issue Westin and Davis mentioned was some security issues where nonresidents would wander the floor and make the residents uncomfortable. 

“I know people who left the floor,” Davis said. “(The security issues) were a contributing factor to them leaving the floor.” 

In response to 2019-2020 security concerns, Davis said staff put up steel doors on the floor that were locked 24/7. 

“We had a couple of house meetings about it; I do remember that they said ‘let’s get to the bottom of this,’” Davis said. 

Westin felt like if something bad happened, it was immediately minimized by the staff, she said. A vandalism incident occurred at the start of the fall 2021 semester that the hall director deemed “bias vandalism.” 

Cleo Westin, sophomore studying journalism, is another transgender woman who lived in Freeman Hall after the whole dorm changed to gender-inclusive. She lived on the top floor of Freeman Hall, named Stonewall, in honor of the Stonewall Riots, for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters.
Mackenzie Bodell

“That felt like, ‘Okay, something serious enough to email us happened but not serious enough to call it anything besides bias vandalism which seemingly implied that the university determined it was out of ignorance and there was no possibility the person could have had malicious intent,’” Westin said. 

The Department of Residence provides education for all its staff to provide a welcoming and supportive environment, said Susan Lammers, senior residence life coordinator in the Department of Residence.

Before starting school each year, the full-time Residence Life staff and graduate assistants are provided training in gender and sexuality for Gender Inclusive Housing. Staff also receive training on principles of community, first-generation and low-income student support and student accessibility services. 

Staff training also includes an overview of the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The RA training includes sessions presented by the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success, Margaret Sloss Center, Women and Gender Equity, Student Accessibility Services and the International Students and Scholars Office. 

Despite some of the issues Davis mentioned, they still had a positive experience living in gender-inclusive housing. 

“It saved me the discomfort of having to live anywhere else, and it allowed me to socialize with them and better understand myself,” Davis said. “It was a really great experience.”

Davis had such a positive experience that they returned to Freeman Hall for their final semester. 

“​​It was just such a unique experience that I was willing to pay very handsomely to come back to Iowa State this most recent semester and go through it again,” Davis said. 

On the other end, Westin’s biggest takeaway from her experience living in transgender housing was that it was underwhelming. 

As a transgender woman, Westin said the lack of housing options bothered her. The Stonewall floor is specific to transgender students. 

“I was confused about why I was more or less forced into that situation and had to be in arguably the worst dorm on campus,” Westin said.

Resources

Iowa State is one of eight Iowa colleges offering gender-inclusive housing options. According to the Campus Pride website, the following colleges offer gender-inclusive housing options: Cornell College, Grinnell College, Iowa State University, Luther College, Maharishi International University, Simpson College, University of Iowa and Wartburg College. 

Iowa State offers resources for LGBTQIA+ students. The Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success has a website page for frequently asked questions about gender-inclusive housing. Aside from the housing information, the Center also provides additional resources for students; more information can be found on their website