IOWA CITY — Thousands of students this week are moving into campus housing at Iowa’s public universities — including about 6,800 at University of Iowa.
That UI total includes the most-ever students identifying as transgender — a population university officials are paying more attention to considering their growing number and new guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice “to help schools ensure the civil rights of transgender students.”
UI students now can choose a preferred name and gender for their official student record, and UI housing and dining officials are working to make that information transferrable to their department.
In the meantime, transgender students can identify as such on separate UI housing applications by choosing “neutral” for gender, rather than male or female, said Virginia Ibrahim-Olin, UI housing and dining assistant director for contracts and assignments. The university’s practice is to house trans students according to the gender with which they identify.
This fall, about 20 UI students who have self-identified as transgender are planning to live in the residence halls. And Ibrahim-Olin said the number of UI trans residents could be higher, as some might have made a change before coming to campus and now identify as that gender.
“That’s exciting,” she said. “It’s definitely more than we had last year.”
Trans students are placed in a variety of different housing types across campus — single, double, and triple rooms with shared bathrooms, attached bathrooms, or pod-style bathrooms, which are those shared with hall mates but allow for single, locked use.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“If they identify as trans, we will give them a phone call or send them an email and see how we can best meet their needs,” Ibrahim-Olin said.
Trans students might make special requests like a roommate of a specific gender or a bathroom with privacy.
“Overwhelmingly, folks want to know, ‘Am I welcome on campus, and can I do my daily functions in a place that is private and affirming?’” she said. “I do have a number of questions about privacy and access to private restrooms.”
National debate around transgender restroom use has included concern for those who are not transgender. But, Ibrahim-Olin said, most trans students worry for their own safety.
“They are more likely to be harmed,” she said. “That’s why some are asking about privacy and making sure they are safe.”
Ibrahim-Olin said the UI’s increase in transgender residents mirrors national growth and visibility of that population.
“It’s important to remember that trans visibility is continuing to increase,” she said. “More and more people are trans and gender non-conforming.”
Most UI students are “pretty chill” about cohabitating with transgender students — or simply those who do womanhood or manhood differently — while some family members might need educating, Ibrahim-Olin said.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“They all have visions of yore, when there was a sign-in and out and visitation hours that were gender specific,” she said. “This bends the notions of what they might be used to. But I have talked with some families that are so open and so affirming, and it’s great.”
UI this summer also completed a project to create 147 gender-inclusive, single-user restrooms on campus. Those spaces “allow anyone to use them, regardless of gender identity.”
The UI changes, policies, and practices align with federal guidance disseminated in May.
Von Stange, assistant vice president for student life and senior director of University Housing & Dining, said housing students according to their preferred gender and providing them safe and private space is “the right thing to do.”
“We also have gotten a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter from the feds on transgender housing, and we wanted to make sure we are following that,” he said.
Although Iowa State University doesn’t have an “inclusive housing” policy, ISU Department of Residence Marketing Coordinator Brittney Rutherford said, the institution is “working with student leaders on what that would look like for the future.”
And, she said, “If a student identifies as transgender and needs a specific housing style, we find a housing style to meet their needs.”
University of Northern Iowa officials didn’t respond to The Gazette’s questions on transgender residents, but its website answers the frequently asked question, “Is gender-inclusive housing available?”
“If you have a housing request based on gender identity or gender expression, please contact … the department of residence,” the website states. “Specific housing requests are handled on a case-by-case basis.”
University of Iowa:
Wednesday — New student move-in from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday — New student move-in from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday — Returning student move-in from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Iowa State University:
Tuesday — Official residence hall move-in from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Wednesday — Official residence hall move-in from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Thursday — Returning student move-in to the halls from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
University of Northern Iowa:
Wednesday — New student move-in from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Thursday — Returning student move-in from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday — Returning student move-in from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.