So far, Juno Cattin has felt pretty welcome and at home at Ball State.
Cattin, who identifies as non-binary, was born a male but would not have felt comfortable living in a residence hall with a man.
Using the university’s accommodation policy, Cattin was able to find a transgender roommate, which made the transition to Ball State much easier.
And the university's friendliness toward the LGBTQ community was a factor in Cattin's decision to come to Ball State.
"Laverne Cox really loves this school and that was one of the main factors of coming here, because she said how comfortable she felt being here," Cattin said. "She's a very big inspiration for me, obviously."
Even so, Ball State is one of two Mid-American Conference Schools that doesn’t have gender-neutral housing. But that, of course, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any resources to help LGBTQ students find a welcoming home.
SGA STEPPING IN
The Student Government Association has passed legislation to allow students to opt into gender-inclusive housing in residence halls. They expect it to be available by Fall 2018 as a small pilot program.
“Being one of the few in the MAC that doesn’t have it yet, it kind of stinks, but we’re making progress with it,” Jones said.
SGA's main concern is if students would actually utilize a gender-neutral living area on campus, Jones said.
But even so, just providing the opportunity is huge, said SGA senator Kam Bontrager. As a gay man, he said he knows the stress of not knowing if his roommate would be accepting of him or not. He ended up getting lucky, but during his time as an orientation leader, he came to realize that not everyone is.
“Realizing how much fear these students have and then throwing them in an environment where they are uncomfortable, it can be really really stressful for them,” Bontrager said. “It may make them not want to come here or to college in general … Providing this opportunity is huge.”
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
For Cheria Wiskham, a freshman psychology major, not having gender-neutral housing isn’t a problem, per-say, but she said it’s something the university should work to fix.
At the very least, it could help make her residence hall experience less awkward.
“Even though the campus is very accepting, people don’t always tend to be,” Wiskham said.
But being able to talk to housing beforehand and select Cattin as her roommate made the transition to Ball State much easier, she said.
But not everyone is so lucky.
Jonah Beemer, a freshman rhetoric and writing major, identifies as a transgender male, but he lives in an all-girls dorm. The school was supportive of his desires to switch rooms, but his parents wouldn't allow the change in dorms.
“[My parents] basically implied that if I tried to change [rooms], they wouldn’t support me or help pay for anything, which isn’t something I can afford,” Beemer said.
Having gender neutral housing would help people be more comfortable coming out and being themselves publicly, Beemer said.
“I have a lot of trans friends who are in dorms they don’t align with, and it’s just not a fun thing,” Beemer said. “Your dorm should be some place you are fully comfortable, where you can come back after class, in your pajamas, chill out and eat popcorn. That’s not a reality for all of us.”
LACKING ON BATHROOMS
One thing transgender students don’t feel the university is doing well is implementing gender-neutral bathrooms.
Last spring, the Student Government Association passed legislation to increase the amount of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus by adding them into new or renovated buildings.
And in December, SGA passed more legislation to further clarify what they wanted done with the bathrooms. They asked the university to redo bathrooms and facilities that had no plans to be remodeled in the next five to 10 years, said Bailey Loughlin, who is on SGA’s diversity and multicultural committee.
“Our concern was that around campus, there are very few [gender neutral bathrooms],” Loughlin said.
University officials aren’t shy about admitting this is true. Ro Anne Royer Engle, associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment services, said some spots on campus lack a gender-neutral bathroom. Last year, the university audited the bathrooms to see how big of a problem it actually was.
The audit found seven designated gender-neutral restrooms across campus and two shower facilities in each of the recreation buildings. Residence halls were not included in the audit, however, because they’re considered private spaces. But Royer Engle said housing was working to make the area more gender inclusive.
Based on the audit results, the university is working to prioritize which buildings need gender-neutral bathrooms the most, Royer Engle said.
The university doesn’t label bathrooms as gender neutral in housing, but there are some that can be used regardless of gender. And in residence halls, Baker/Klipple has semi-private bathrooms, and Park, Kinghorn, Studebaker East, DeHority, Botsford/Swinford and Schmidt/Wilson are communal stalls with the shower and toilet in separate rooms.
But even having gender-neutral and semi-private bathrooms doesn’t solve every issue.
Cattin once went into a neutral bathroom in Noyer and a woman in there spotted Cattin and said “this is awkward,” Cattin said.
“It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your inconvenience. I just need to use the restroom,’” Cattin said. “It really upset me, and it was just really out of nowhere.”