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Ryerson University students who moved into their residences Sunday will be the first cohort to experience the school’s new “all gender” student housing option — the first known of its kind in Canada.
This month, in a move to introduce housing that accommodates all gender identities, Ryerson announced it is no longer requiring students to identify a gender on its residence application.
Students had the option of choosing “all gender” housing or not. If they chose that option, they could be assigned roommates from a different gender. If students preferred to disclose their gender and be paired with someone from the same gender, they had that choice as well.
The school also expanded its gender categories on the application.
Nearly half of the 750 incoming students who moved into their new dorm rooms this weekend chose the all gender option, according to school officials.
Camryn Harlick, vice-president of equity for the Ryerson Student Union and a third-year trans student who does not identify as male or female, remembers what it felt like to fill out the old housing application, when there was only the option of selecting one of the two genders.
“I felt like it was an othering process,” Harlick said Sunday afternoon as students hauled suitcases and bedding into their new homes.
“I felt like my experience at university was going to be that, continued.”
Last year, Harlick, 19, and other members of Ryerson’s Trans Collective — a group that focuses on support for trans people on campus — spoke to school officials about having more equitable student housing.
Ian Crookshank, director of housing and residence life at Ryerson, told the Star on Sunday that the school listened to the concerns about the old “mandatory and binary” system. Crookshank said that while conventionally schools have been accommodating individual students who might have different needs around gender, Ryerson decided instead to change the system altogether. This way, Crookshank said, students wouldn’t feel discouraged upon application, like Harlick did.
“The system works for everyone now, whereas before, it worked for a lot of students, but not for everyone,” Crookshank said.
“We’ve put that first question of identifying their gender back on the student,” he said. “It’s a choice rather than being told.”
Students now identify their gender if they have a need they would like to be met, such as having their gender taken into account for room assignments.
“We don’t need to ask it because it isn’t important to us. But it may be important to you,” Crookshank said of that shift in priorities, adding he had not received any complaints from students or parents about the changes.
The move to “all gender” residence was a natural next step, said Sophie Lafleur, president of Ryerson’s residence council. Residences had already been mixed with genders and Ryerson moved to all gender washrooms two years ago.
By not forcing students to identify a gender on the application, they don’t have to “out themselves” if they don’t want to, said Lafleur, 19.
“(This) can be students first time in the city, their first time moving away from home . . . It’s a way for students to feel more included and have a safe space on campus.”
Harlick, who uses the pronouns they and them, added that the fact that this new “all gender” option now exists will also help improve campus culture.
“I think it sets the tone that transphobia won’t be accepted,” they said.
“You at least know that if you go to somebody, they’re going to kind of know what you’re talking about.”