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Gender-neutral housing should not cause alarm

On July 7, USF became the first college in the state to allow students to identify themselves as male, female or “transitioning” when applying for on-campus housing.

The move, which will allow eight to 10 students of any gender to room together in spring 2012, according to The St. Petersburg Times, has captured the attention of news outlets nationwide. Yet reports demonizing the University for not alerting students of their roommate’s gender, in addition to confusing other facts, are misleading and only serve to sensationalize the sensitive topic.

According to a video from WTSP Channel 10 News, which also appeared on CNN’s website, USF “will give no prior notice to a student that his or her roommate might be transgendered. So, for instance, a male student might think that he’s living with another male student when in reality he’s living with someone transitioning to be female.”

The news that the true sex of one’s roommate might not be what it seemed elicited responses such as “Oh! Unbelievable,” and “I think I’d be more freaked out by it … maybe even a little disgusted by it,” from USF students interviewed by Channel 10 News. However, more students are living with transitioning individuals now then they will be under the new system.

Director of Housing and Residential Education Dorie Paine said to The Oracle that individuals who identify themselves as transitioning will be allowed to share rooms with anyone that mutually agrees to do so. If a transitioning person does not know anyone they would like to live with, they will be assigned to a room with someone of the same biological sex the University has on record – the same way they are currently assigned to rooms.

It is not the role of the University to “out” any individual’s gender preferences, and the new system helps prevent people who would not be comfortable living together from having to do so. Every student deserves privacy in their own bedroom, and USF has rightfully said that it will not take advantage of sharing personal information they will now be able to collect with a student’s future roommate.

The gender-neutral rooms, which are limited to Holly and Kosove residence halls, also include several single rooms for “special circumstances.” Now that the University will know who is transgendered and who isn’t, housing can place transgendered students with students that are “sensitive” to diversity, Paine said.

Media sources such as Channel 10 warning of transgendered students in a “roommate lottery,” which doesn’t exist, or placing transgendered USF student Taylor McCue on a TBT cover under the title “Gender Bender,” only serve to confuse and frighten students and the parents who pay for their tuition.

Likewise, highlighting the controversy of keeping someone’s gender of choice a secret undermines the privacy such measures strive to create – privacy not only for a transitioning student, but also for an unsuspecting roommate.