Gender-neutral housing goes largely unnoticed at Pitt

A recent report shows that most students living in the University of Pittsburgh’s new gender-neutral dorm did not actually request the special accommodation.

In fact, Pitt News reports that of 416 students living in the newly-classified gender-neutral complex, only 34 had specifically requested a gender-neutral arrangement, meaning only 13 apartments in the entire building are actually functioning as gender-neutral rooms for about eight percent of Ruskin Hall residents.

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There have even been complaints that Pitt has not put sufficient effort into advertising the new arrangements, suggesting the possibility that some students might not even be aware that they are living in a gender-neutral complex, though others appear to have deliberately exploited the option as a way of circumventing normal housing policies.

“[The option] could’ve been better advertised, but also, it was such a big deal when it happened,” said Sara Yablonski, vice president of the Pitt Rainbow Alliance. “There was a lot of press exposure and I feel like the campus in general was made pretty aware.”

Some “cisgender” students, in fact, actively sought out the option, according to university spokesman John Fedele, who noted that some students chose the gender-neutral housing option in order to live with a friend or significant other of a different gender.

Rather than reduce the number of gender-neutral options, though, Fedele indicated that the school may consider adding even more during the next academic year to accommodate student demands for lower costs, which are driven by the fact that Ruskin is among the more-expensive living options on campus.

“A lot of trans people and a lot of members of the LGBT+ community are people who run the risk of not being able to come home one day, of not being able to rely on parents, so they’re not people that are going to have the most money to throw around on living expenses like this if they can get cheaper housing that makes them uncomfortable” a Ruskin sophomore explained.

The school’s current gender-neutral housing option was added on the recommendation of a gender-inclusive working group, which was formed in 2013 after the school settled a lawsuit with a former student who was expelled for using a locker room that didn’t match with his gender identity.

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Since the settlement, the school has made all university bathrooms gender-neutral, including those on Pitt’s branch campuses, and actively encourages students and staff to use whichever bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“I was really happy to be going to a school that provided that option and acknowledged it,” gushed one Ruskin resident who identifies as a female. “They didn’t say it was ‘co-ed’ or ‘for boys and girls’ or anything that is cisnormative. It was ‘gender-neutral,’ and I really liked that they had that opportunity and used that language.”

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