Gender-inclusive floors are offered at Smith-Steeb, Houston House and Gateway apartments. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Arriving on campus for their first semester at Ohio State, Ose Arheghan said they were unable to live in the gender-inclusive living community in Gateway apartments because they were a minor. There are other gender-inclusive floors on campus, but Arheghan was unaware of them.

Gender-inclusive floors at Ohio State provide students in the LGBTQ community a space where they can feel safe and comfortable in their residence halls regardless of their gender identity or expression. The floors include gender-neutral bathrooms and allow students with differing gender identities to room together, but are only available in buildings with the most expensive housing rate, according the housing website.

As Undergraduate Student Government LGBTQ+ emissary senator, Arheghan said constituents find that the policies regarding gender-inclusive housing are vague.

“Students who have accommodations, it’s because they sorted those out on a case-by-case basis with individual conversations via email or phone calls to the housing department,” Arheghan, a first-year in political science and sexuality studies, said. “And that’s a lot on the housing department to have to deal with individual requests one-by-one-by-one, and also, it’s a lot for students.”

Dave Isaacs, spokesman for the Office of Student Life, said that students who identify as transgender are strongly encouraged to speak with the housing department to communicate their individual needs.

“Housing wants to work with any student that has a special need,” Isaacs said. “We encourage students to reach out.”

Jordan Smoot, a fourth-year in political science and resident on the gender-inclusive floor in Smith-Steeb, said this can put transgender individuals in an uncomfortable position.

“I think housing is expecting trans students to advocate on their own, but that’s very hard for first-year students to do who have a minoritized identity, especially when they’re talking with someone with a high-level position at a university,” Smoot said. “I mean, I was terrified to talk to [them] about my housing.”

When filling out the housing contract, Arheghan said that students are asked whether they would be willing to live in a gender-inclusive community, but some students are unaware of what this entails and end up living on a gender-inclusive floor without intending to live there.

Smoot said there are only two openly transgender individuals on his floor, including himself. He said that fellow residents expressed confusion at a floor meeting when asked if they had signed up to live on a gender-inclusive floor.

“No one knew that they were living on a gender-inclusive floor,” Smoot said. “They said they’d be OK with it, but they didn’t say they wanted to be here. They didn’t say, ‘This is what I want out of my living space.’”

Arheghan said this can be problematic because it doesn’t always guarantee that LGBTQ individuals will be accepted in their residence halls, and the space intended for those who need accommodations might have been taken by someone who does not require them.

Despite the confusion some students have expressed, Isaacs said that students are notified if they are placed on a gender-inclusive floor in their preliminary and final housing assignments, and must indicate on their housing contracts that they want to be assigned to a gender-inclusive floor.

“Second-years self-select on their housing contracts whether they want that or not,” Isaacs said. “They really ought to be aware.”

Cost is another obstacle transgender students might face.

Isaacs said the only residence facilities that offer gender-inclusive floors are Smith-Steeb, Houston House and Gateway apartments.

However, each building falls under the Tier 1 housing rate, which is the most expensive housing plan at Ohio State at $4,326 a semester. This is about $700 more per semester than the second-most expensive rate, according to the housing website.

“The affordability aspect is very real,” Smoot said. “If you look at the statistics, first-generation trans college students are most likely to be in poverty because they often do not have the support of their families.”

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a study found that among transgender college students, 19 percent expressed great concern with financing their education, compared to 12 percent of all college students.

The study also discovered that transgender students are more likely than their peers to receive federal pell grants and come from lower-income families.

Isaacs said that although gender-inclusive floors are only offered at the Tier 1 rate, students seeking accommodations might be housed at a less expensive housing rate, just not in the living community format that gender-inclusive floors provide.

A common alternative is to house students in Jones Tower or other residence facilities in a single room with its own bathroom, Isaacs said.

“There are gender-inclusive rooms in all tiers, so part of the discussion is what amenities the student may want and what tier may best meet their needs,” Isaacs said.

Although students have the option to choose less expensive housing in a setting other than a living community, Smoot said he hopes that Ohio State will eventually offer gender-inclusive floors in all tiers because it normalizes the idea that not everyone identifies as cisgender and provides a sense of belonging to LGBTQ students.

As a transgender individual, Smoot said that prior to living on a gender-inclusive floor, he had an instinctive reaction to look at every person who entered the bathroom, concerned with how they might react given his gender identity and appearance.

“I don’t have that reaction anymore,” Smoot said. “[Gender-inclusive floors] are a place where you can be yourself and not have to worry about people policing where you go to the bathroom or where you live.”

Arheghan said they share the same goals as Smoot for gender-inclusive housing at Ohio State. They are working to advocate for more definitive policies surrounding gender-inclusive housing and passed legislation in the USG General Assembly in 2018 to suggest safe-zone training for all resident advisers on campus to ensure that LGBTQ students have a strong support system.

“My RA didn’t really know anything about trans issues. I did not have a support system, and that’s the story for so many trans people at this school because their RAs don’t have that knowledge,” Arheghan said. “RAs have to go through open-doors training, the anti-bias training; they have to go through REACH training, suicide prevention training; they should also have to go through LGBT competency training.”

Arheghan said their ultimate goal is gender-inclusive floors at every location on campus and at every tiered housing rate so that those communities are accessible to everyone.

“I think [gender-inclusive floors are] important,” Smoot said. “It’s a sense of belonging because to feel as though you belong is like the underpinning of almost all of the needs that someone has in their base level. That’s where you get your sense of safety and your sense of community and your sense of love for yourself and for others.”

Note: Ose Arheghan uses they/them/their pronouns