While there has been gender-inclusive housing on Cal Poly’s campus for a year, there’s still confusion as to what ‘gender inclusive’ means. This confusion led to surprises for some freshmen this fall when they discovered they were assigned to living arrangements with other genders.
The history of gender-inclusive housing at Cal Poly
In 2011, a gender-neutral option for on-campus housing was proposed to administration by students. In November 2015, student activism group SLO Solidarity included “gender-neutral or co-gender housing options” as one of their 41 demands for Cal Poly administration. The option was proposed to allow gender-nonconforming students to feel more comfortable with their living situations, and to allow any students to live with people of other genders.
In 2016, gender-inclusive housing was offered for all students, including freshmen. The option is currently offered in any Poly Canyon Village (PCV) apartment, Cerro Hollister apartments in Cerro Vista and tower six in Yosemite. Students who choose this option can live with people who they know will be accepting of their gender identity.
On the University Housing website, the gender-inclusive housing page states that “Gender-inclusive housing is an option in which two or more students share a room or apartment regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, identity or expression. It is a program that broadens student’s choices and helps ensure living arrangements that are welcoming and inclusive for all members of our community.”
Confusion about placement for Fall 2017
This year, students were given the option to check a box indicating that they would prefer to be assigned to gender-inclusive housing. However, many freshmen were unexpectedly placed in gender-inclusive housing because of confusion about what the term meant. Several parents expressed their questions and concerns on the Cal Poly Parents Facebook page.
“I didn’t really know what it entailed,” environmental management and protection freshman Scott Weston said. “I figured it just meant boys and girls can be in the same dorm, but not the same room.”
While Weston ultimately ended up liking his housing arrangement and his female roommate, he didn’t feel like the housing application did a good job of explaining what ‘gender-inclusive’ means.
Cal Poly parent Thannya Beck said she was surprised to learn her son was assigned to live in an apartment with five women.
“I have no problems with [students] being co-ed, it was just the initial shock,” Beck said. “When my son told me he was in a room with five girls I was thinking it would be a distraction, but now I’m OK with it.”
Beck said her son moved out of the apartment and University Housing was accommodating and quick to find an arrangement he was more comfortable with.
Cal Poly parent Kate Trinh also said she was confused about the gender-inclusive option on the application. Her son was unexpectedly placed in an apartment with two women.
“I think they should just make it a little clearer,” Trinh said. “We just had a misunderstanding of what that meant. We thought it meant being LGBT-friendly.”
In the past, gender-inclusive housing has mostly been offered in PCV and Cerro Vista apartments. Trinh said her son chose the gender-inclusive housing option thinking it would increase his chances of being placed in an on-campus apartment.
“If you want to live in the apartments, [we wondered,] ‘What was the best chance of doing that?’ We just took it at face value,” Trinh said.
Trinh said she didn’t remember seeing much information about Cal Poly’s definition of gender-inclusive housing on the application.
The option for gender-inclusive housing on the application states: “I prefer to be assigned in gender-inclusive housing that will be located in the Cerro Vista apartment community and the Yosemite residence hall community. I understand choosing this option may supersede my Learning Community preferences.”
On the housing application, students can request to live in learning communities — but not specific buildings — based on their field of study or personal interests.
Some students may have chosen the gender-inclusive option to increase their chances of being placed in Cerro Vista or Yosemite.
Meanwhile, some students who did not opt for gender-inclusive residence halls still encountered surprises in housing surrounding the new option. Some single-gender rooms were in buildings with gender-inclusive rooms. Because of this, some single-gender room residents shared bathrooms with people of other genders.
Business administration freshman Zelie Zshornack said she and her roommates did not opt for gender-inclusive housing. While Zshornack’s roommates are also female, she said the co-ed bathrooms took some getting used to.
“When I got put in it, I didn’t know what to expect,” Zshornack said.
Senior Associate Director of Housing Carole Schaffer explained that University Housing has a relatively open room trade policy if students are placed in a living situation they are not comfortable with. However, Schaffer explained room trades depend on availability.
“We work to accommodate the needs of the students,” Schaffer said.
For continuing students, this is the first year that students who opted to live in co-ed rooms and apartments were not required to attend an information session beforehand. Schaffer said the information that was covered in the training about living with people of other genders is now available online.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article omitted that the gender-neutral housing option was proposed by student activism group SLO Solidarity.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the gender-neutral option was made available in 2011.