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Freshman studio art major Marucs Pavilonis, left, and sophomore computer science major Ramona Auble pose for a portrait outside of Smith House on South Green. Smith House offers gender-neutral housing, which was appealing to both Pavilonis and Auble, both of whom are transgender. 

Gender-neutral housing on campus to expand with LGBT-focused program

Starting Fall Semester 2016, OU Housing and Residence Life will introduce an LGBT Living Experience community that will provide residential programs directed toward LGBT-identifying students. 

While some incoming freshmen were stressing over their academic course load or how they'd make friends at the university of their choice, Marcus Pavilonis had to consider where he'd live and whether he'd be accepted for his identity. 

Pavilonis, an Ohio University freshman studying studio art who identifies as transgender, is one of 12 students in the university’s Gender-Neutral Housing program, which will effectively double in size next year.

OU having a gender-neutral housing program factored into his decision to choose the university. 

Since 2011, OU has offered gender-neutral housing, where students can live in the same room with any other student regardless of sex, biological gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, according to OU’s website.

Starting Fall Semester 2016, OU Housing and Residence Life will introduce an LGBT Living Experience community that will provide residential programs directed toward LGBT-identifying students. The LGBT Center is planning many of those programs.

More than 200 colleges and universities nationwide provide gender-inclusive housing, according to Campus Pride’s website, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBT students.

At least 11 other universities and colleges in Ohio besides OU provide gender-neutral housing, according to the site.

Safety is part of the reason OU provides the housing option for students, Brendan Downing, resident director of Atkinson Complex and director of the Gender-Neutral Housing program, said.

“The transgender community is victim of a higher rate of violence ... sexual violence," Downing said. "When we place our communities (what we have) at the forefront of our minds is the safety of the community."

OU’s gender-neutral housing differs from similar programs at other universities, he said.

“We’re unique among campuses that have a gender-neutral program,” he said. “A lot of universities don’t allow romantic couples to live together, so that is kind of something that sets us apart. That’s not our focus and our goal. Our focus is to create a safe environment free of gender constrictions.”

The director of OU’s LGBT Center, delfin bautista, proposed the community to university housing as an alternative to gender-neutral housing for students who want a more direct LGBT housing experience.

“A lot of folks ended up in gender-neutral housing, but that’s not really LGBT housing,” bautista said.

The third floor of Smith House, where the program currently resides, also will hold the LGBT program next year. There will be one hallway for LGBT housing and another for gender-neutral housing, each with a gender-neutral bathroom, bautista said.

Downing said although some students may not want to live on South Green because the buildings are old and farther from academic buildings, he believes the "Back South" is a good location for the programs.

Students have to go through an additional locked door to access the gender-neutral housing community, which adds “an extra layer of security” for LGBT students who have safety concerns, he said. The mod-style housing also helps develop a sense of community for those within the program.

LGBT housing will have the capacity to hold 15 students, in addition to the 15 spots currently available in the gender-neutral community. Students will be able to live in either a single or double room.

Those who want to live in the LGBT or gender-neutral housing programs must go through an application process online. The application asks students why they want to live in the community and why they think they are a good fit, among other questions.

The gender-neutral housing program is already full for next year, bautista said, but LGBT housing still has openings.

Downing said most students who apply are approved for the program, and added that two rooms have already been wait-listed for the gender-neutral housing program. Officials refer students who are unable to get into the gender-neutral program to the newly formed LGBT living program instead.

“Luckily, everyone has been such a great fit that we haven’t had a situation where we’ve had to decline anybody yet,” Downing said.

Although the programs cater specifically to LGBT students, the living community is available to any student who wants to live in a “genderless environment,” Downing said.

Ramona Auble, a sophomore studying computer science, currently lives across the hall from Pavilonis in gender-neutral housing.

“I wouldn’t have been comfortable in gender-segregated dorms,” Auble said.

The two said that while at OU, they have lived next to both a straight couple and a non-LGBT fifth-year senior who was in the program because he couldn’t find an apartment for his last semester.

Auble said she does not mind living near non-LGBT students in the program.

“There’s no issue with people using gender-neutral housing for their own ends,” she said.

Both students said they enjoy living in gender-neutral housing. 

“It’s just really inclusive and feels very safe for LGBT people,” Auble said. “Everyone is friends, and it’s easy not to worry about people being mean, I guess. It’s a really good environment.”


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