Ryerson University announced Wednesday they will no longer require students to disclose their gender identity on housing application forms, and that they will introduce housing that accommodates all gender identities.
"What we've done is we've altered our application to not require students to identify their gender unless it is something they want us to take into account when we're assigning the residence room," Ian Crookshank, director of housing and residence life at Ryerson, told CBC Toronto.
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Crookshank said the university has also expanded the number of gender category options on applications to "represent a non-binary spectrum."
Students will select if they want "all-gender" housing or not. If they choose that option, they do not have to disclose their gender identity and will be housed with "folks from all different gender identities."
If they do not choose that option, they will be asked to disclose their gender identity and make it known that they want that taken into account when being placed.
"Students can identify if they wish to, but it's not mandatory. And if they do identify, and they identify they want same-gendered housing, then we'll match them with someone who's of the same gender identity," he said.
"Otherwise, they go into a pool and they are assigned based on an all-gender status."
At other schools, Crookshank said non-binary students are often required to opt out of regular accommodations and request an all-gender one.
George Brown College told CBC Toronto in an email: "Applicants are requested to select their gender from a list. If their gender is not listed, they are requested to select "other" and a representative of the residence will contact them."
The University of Toronto told CBC News it hasn't "implemented an 'all-gender housing' policy," and that "during the residence application process, students can indicate their gender identity and request the residence accommodation that would best meet their needs."
Crookshank said he wanted to "flip the table" and make all-gender option the default, so that non-binary students won't have to "out" themselves in the application process.
The move comes from a motivation to make the campus more inclusive — a plea he says comes directly from students.
"An organization on campus that advocates for trans students sat down with us a few years back and talked about some of the challenges that students experience living in residence," he said.
"The biggest thing for us, which I think is important in terms of changing how we talk about this, is about supporting all students who come to live here and supporting them in whatever stage of gender identity development they're in. And that's the most important part."
'An equitable approach... supports all students'
Of the 856 students living in Ryerson's residences, Crookshank said 45 per cent chose all-gender and 55 per cent chose same-gender accommodations, which he says suggests support for the move by those who traditionally identify as male or female.
"Oftentimes, when we talk about all-gender — whether it be washrooms or housing accommodations — we talk about it from the standpoint of supporting those who are non-binary," he said. "But what this says to me is an equitable approach actually supports all students."
The 'conversation is starting to happen'
Camryn Harlick, vice-president of Equity for the Ryerson Student Union, identifies as a trans person who is non-binary, and identifies as neither male nor female.
During Harlick's first year in residence, being the only trans person was awkward at times, especially when it came to using the washroom.
"There was one washroom that wasn't gendered, and it was often out of service. I would go to the student centre instead," Harlick said.
Harlick said this policy change sends a strong message to trans students that they are respected by Ryerson.
"Even small increments of change like this will help create a bigger campus culture, and help start conversations around transness. Even if folks aren't getting it, that conversation is starting to happen."
Sarah Nadur, a 17-year-old from Barbados about to start her first year at Ryerson, chose the same-gender option but says she applauds the school's decision to have other choices.
"I think it's great that you could choose," she said.
Sarah Abbas, who's also about to start her first year, commutes from Hamilton. She said she would choose same-gendered housing if given the option.
"I personally would like to have the same gender because I feel like we could share similar experiences. I just feel comfortable that way," said the 18-year-old.
Nick, a 26-year-old architecture student, doesn't live in residence, but he says he thinks the all-gendered option is "a positive change."
"Ryerson is a very liberal environment, and that's a creative way to solve a problem."