Beginning the Fall semester, University of Utah students will have the option of living in gender-neutral housing, as the school is changing the 12-student Alliance House on Officers Circle to a gender-inclusive environment giving students the ability to explore their own identities.
In August, the University of Utah was named as one of the top 25 most welcoming schools in the nation by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
According to the study, the University of Utah earned a 5 of 5 possible star rating on six of the eight categories used to determine the rankings. In LGBT Policy Inclusion, the U received a 4.5 rating and in LGBT Housing & Residence Life it fell to 3.5.
Specifically, the report shows that the U does not have 3 of a total 32 criterion they sought: an accessible, simple process for students to change their name and gender identity on university records and documents; LGBT housing options/themes; and insurance coverage for students transitioning from male to female or female to male to cover hormone replacement therapy.
Kai Medina-Martinez, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center at the University of Utah, told the U student newspaper, Daily Utah Chronicle, that the lower housing ranking helped drive conversation and enforce changes in the university’s housing policy.
“It has been something that we have talked about with the LGBT Resource Center for a couple of years now and with the ranking, the timing was right,” said Barb Remsburg, director of housing and residential education.
“What the Alliance House is doing next year is basically saying, ‘We don’t care what your gender is,'” Scott Jensen, assistant director of resident services told the Chronicle. “You don’t have to tell us — you don’t have to identify.”
Jensen also said that the house is already half full.
“The Alliance House is aimed at creating a welcoming environment to students of different backgrounds,” reads the description of the house on the university’s housing website. “Those who live in the Alliance House will promote the educational, cultural, and social empowerment of the members within the house and throughout the community. Residents of the Alliance House will also be able to select a space without consideration of gender identity/expression, or sexual orientation. Residents will be able to live in a gender-inclusive environment that gives them the ability to explore their own identities, and find common ground with one another in a safe and affirming environment. Members of this community will use group discussion, programming and educational experiences to expand their knowledge about the things that make us unique and inspiring individuals As an Alliance, we stand strong in the face of prejudice, injustice, and inequality. We strive to bring awareness to our residential community of different issues that are important to all of us as diverse human beings.”
Each of the housing units on Officers Circle, which were part of Fort Douglas and became student housing after being renovated and used for the 2002 Winter Games, has a unique focus. One is a think tank for health care innovation, others are focused on students studying the fine arts, business or law.
The Alliance House has four single rooms, two of which have their own bath, and four double rooms. The six upstairs rooms share four single-person baths. It also has several study areas, two living rooms, a kitchen and dining room, laundry facilities, and a multipurpose room.
The builing was originally a duplex built in 1874-1876 to house officers of the Fourteenth Infantry and their families.