*This story was posted to HCMediaOnline.org on March 10.
Housing is, perhaps, one of the most important aspects of one’s college experience. Whether on-campus, campus apartments or off-campus, housing is where students should feel most comfortable and free to be themselves. And with an increasing awareness of gender identity, it’s important to learn more about how gender relates to living situations and the Hastings College housing process.
Hastings College, an openly Presbyterian, liberal arts school, is working harder than ever to address the challenges that students now face and to make all students feel welcome and comfortable.
That process — of making sure students feel welcome and comfortable — may even start before students make it to campus.
“I think it starts even in the administration process. Our counselors do an excellent job of forming relationships with the students they’re recruiting and because of that relationship, people feel comfortable disclosing needs they have,” Dan Peters, associate vice president for Student Life, said. “With our professional working relationship with admissions, they can convey that upon us, and we can work with them on that.”
After identifying the needs of students, the Hastings College administration is able to inform the students on the services and programs the college has to offer. The line of communication between the student and administration can prove to be vital in ensuring safety for everyone.
“Safety is one of the main terms when you think about housing,” said Chandra Essex, Hastings College director of student support. “You may not feel comfortable, based on your born gender, with sharing a facility with someone who is a different gender than what you identify. So that’s one of the things we’re trying to think about too, the ways they are safely housed in a facility and where they have the ability to be educated, to not be discriminated against and not feel any potential that something will harm them.”
Hastings College has tried to be proactive to accommodate all students’ needs. In the fall of 2015, HC introduced all gender bathrooms to campus. Even though the switch to all gender restrooms was made by simply changing a sign, it was a sign of progress for the campus as a way to better accommodate all students.
Dr. Laura Logan, as well as students, made a push for the all gender bathrooms to better accommodate the student body. The HC community can expect further improvements toward better inclusiveness, starting with options in the Jackson Dinsdale Art Center and future dorms.
“I think as we have more buildings go up, we will have more options,” Essex said. “The new art center will have an all gender restroom in it, also the residence halls will have single rooms, with their own restrooms, for students transitioning or going through a transition, so we have those options available.”
Despite HC’s proactive steps to be more inclusive, there are still obstacles, the biggest coming in the form of administrative software from a company called PowerCampus.
“The software is designed to assign one name and a single gender. Often times one of the first steps for those working through gender identity issues is a name change,” Peters said. “How can we honor and respect those with a preferred name, in a way with how they show up on an email, the preferred name that shows up on MyHC and that shows up on class rosters?”
There is no timetable for a change or improvement in software, but administration is pleased with the steps taken thus far.
“We know this is an issue that is certainly in the spotlight nationally, and we aren’t the only school with these frustrations that our vendor would not be more proactive with these changes,” Peters said. “It’s an ongoing process. It’s small steps and this year in particular, we’ve made some good strides, even though they were small at the time.”