USF Allows Transgender Student Housing. Will Apartments Follow?

University of South Florida in Tampa announced last week that (for purposes of dorm placement – roommate matching) they’d allow transgender students to indicate themselves as such – as opposed to having to select between male/female while they may be transitioning from one to the other.

Regardless of you how you may personally feel about the issue, this is yet one more example of how much things have changed since these students’ parents were in college – and not for the worse either. Prosperity and technology provide us with options, and that’s nowhere more apparent in college than in the myriad of living arrangements available to all students.

While USF leads a relatively small contingency of schools in the move to optional co-ed and transgender dorms, most student apartment communities in Florida don’t get involved in such sensitive issues as sexual preference or sexual identity. Some don’t even allow co-ed living unless all roommates agree to it and sign their leases at the same time. Further, some communities (like Gainesville, FL) have even passed local ordinances to add protections from discrimination such as sexual preference and sexual identity in areas of employment and housing.This means a student community that allows an applicant to self-describe as to either of those categories opens the door for a potential suit in the event the student ever feels discriminated against. All that equals is risk and if you can count on anything it’s business avoiding unnecessary risk.

Unlike on-campus living, parents do have more control in an off-campus apartment situation simply for the fact that they have to typically provide a “guarantor form” before their child can be approved for a lease. Withholding this document (like the car keys in high school) allows mom & dad to wield the power many parents feel should rightfully be theirs – final say whenever money is being spent. However, once the form is signed the lease IS in the student’s name and mom & dad fall into the role of silent partners on the deal. More on these forms later…

No doubt that USF’s inventory of 5500 dorm rooms leads as much to their present decision as a desire to be a progressive leader among Florida Colleges. While most student housing communities max out at around 1000 beds, you can bet that most will avoid the sexual identity issue until it is past “mainstream” due to fears of Fair Housing issues and simply not wanting another complication in their already byzantine roommate matching processes.

What are your thoughts? Should students be permitted to check a box if they didn’t want to live with a self-described “transgender” student? Do you think they should be informed ahead of time if randomly placed with one? Should College dorms and/or Student apartment communities be involved in any housing placements other than same-sex, with exception to siblings?

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