Illustration by Kaileen Smith
Illustration by Kaileen Smith

All Cass Stradleigh wanted was to live in a gender nonconforming place in their second year at UC Santa Cruz. But when they tried to apply for housing at Porter College for fall 2016, the online application didn’t give them the option.

“The problem is with the way the system works,” Stradleigh said. “ … By the time that your appointment opens, and you realize that you can’t get a place [in the online system] and you have to talk to someone about it — all the spots are going to be taken up.”

Stradleigh wanted to live in a Porter apartment with a group including cisgender students and their current transgender and gender nonconforming roommate Cy Dollente. But they were unable to join the apartment without going to a housing official first, who would manually edit the system.

For trans and gender nonconforming students, the hoops to jump through when it comes to housing feel infinite. Students who change their gender identity and aren’t officially registered as “unknown, not specified,” which categorizes any student who falls outside of the gender binary, may face a technical error when applying for housing.

Like many gender nonconforming students, Stradleigh and Dollente were frustrated about the lack of accessible information and started posting fliers and statuses online saying the housing system was transphobic and a form of segregation. These actions were met with harsh criticism, including hate speech online and on the fliers themselves.

“Everyone keeps asking us [what we are upset about],” Dollente said. “But the problem is that there are so many little parts to the problem that it’s hard to pin down.”

UCSC has offered LGBTQIA+ themed housing for nearly 50 years, and since 2009 students have had the option to select all-gender room options which allow students to live together regardless of identification.

“[The LGBTQIA+] community, they’re all very unique,” Dollente said. “When you put all 43 different genders [and sexualities] as ‘other’ then it’s really horrible, and you generalize an entire [group].”

In an effort to address the limitations and difficulty transgender and gender nonconforming students face during the housing process, Associate Vice Chancellor of Colleges, Housing and Educational Services (CHES) Sue Matthews announced that beginning fall 2016, students will have the option to select trans-inclusive housing options.

This action is a direct result of the All-Gender Housing Task Force’s recommendation in June 2015 and will be the first housing community specifically for transgender, gender-fluid or gender nonconforming students and their allies.

“We endeavor to provide a range of options that may appeal to transgender and gender nonconforming students,” Matthews said in an email to all students living on campus. “Trans-inclusive housing areas … are intended to create safer and supportive spaces to live for transgender and gender nonconforming students, and their allies.”

She also commented on frustrations felt by Dollente and Stradleigh who couldn’t select all-gender housing on the online application.

“We wish to acknowledge this limitation of the online system and the negative impact it had upon some transgender and gender nonconforming students,” Matthews said in the email. “We have begun a review of this element of our housing assignment process and intend to explore potential means of making the online process more inclusive for all students.”

To be a part of the trans-inclusive housing options students will have to complete a supplemental application, but will be able to request a specific roommate or will be assigned one based on their application preferences.

First-year students who request trans-inclusive housing will be housed on a singular floor of Merrill College that will accommodate about 35 students, said Brian Arao, the Associate College Administrative Officer and member of the task force. Continuing and transfer students will have the same option at the Redwood Grove apartments, where there have been 12 students admitted so far.

Arao said he will assist students in identifying housing options that best suit their needs and explained that new options are meant to create a stronger sense of community.

“The trans-inclusive housing option is focused specifically on creating safer and supportive living spaces for trans-identified and gender nonconforming students,” Arao said in an email.

UCSC isn’t the only university working to address this issue. UCLA offers gender inclusive housing in a Gender, Sexuality and Society floor in one of its residence halls which houses 30 students, but this is a significantly more expensive housing option because it’s a plaza style housing option rather than a standard dorm. UC Berkeley provides gender neutral housing, including the Unity House which provides mixed gender roommate assignments for 230 students.

UCSC housing staff anticipates that not all transgender or gender nonconforming students will want to live in the two inclusive communities, so each college and residential community is prepared to find appropriate housing assignments for students on an individual basis.

“The trans-inclusive housing option was never meant to be the be-all, end-all solution for every trans-identified student,” Arao said in an email. “We know that trans and gender nonconforming students are a diverse group, and thus have equally diverse housing needs.”