Panel to discuss all-gender housing issues today

By Amy Ledig

College staff and students will come together for a panel on all-gender housing this afternoon. Panelists will discuss the history of the all-gender housing and bathrooms on campus and look at what is being done at other schools and how the college can work to create a more inclusive environment and safe spaces on campus.The discussion, which will be held in the Fine Arts Gallery at 4:40 p.m. today, will involve community members from across campus. Panelists will include Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, Admissions Counselor and Kirk Hall Director Erin Miller ’05, Danni Sigwalt ’08, and Leigh Smythe ’72, a member of the University of Minnesota Transgender Commission. Eily Marlow, Lilly Program associate and associate chaplain, will moderate.

Bobbi Gass ’10, one of the students who helped organize the event, said that they hope to raise awareness of the issue.

“Most importantly,” he said, the panel will “inform people about why [all-gender housing] is an issue.”

Miller said that the purpose of the forum is to share ideas and “think about where we’re coming from and brainstorm where we’re going. [and] what that will mean to other services we provide on campus.”

“[The goal of the panel is to] invite more people into the conversation and also to imagine together what the Kirk all-gender housing could be,” Marlow said.

Next year, Kirk will have a section reserved for all-gender housing. Students had to apply to live there, like other theme housing on campus, and the section will serve as a space for residents and others to examine gender issues.

Miller came to Macalester from the University of Vermont, which she said has been more active in meeting the needs of transgender students. The college has a large transgender population, she said, and its experiences serving those students could be useful in informing Macalester’s moves to better serve its transgender students.

The university, she said, “has been just more out there doing things to support transgender students,” she said.

The issue of providing support to transgender students is something colleges and universities across the country are dealing with, Miller said.

“In the past, services for transgender students have been reactionary,” she said. “As more and more students are coming out earlier or discovering this part of their identities earlier, the college will have to [prove in admissions] what services the college offers.”

Drawing off the experiences of others is something the college should be doing more of, Marlow said, adding that the inclusion of panelists from the Twin Cities and others with experience in outside environments should help generate new ideas and provide new perspectives.

“In the places we’re getting stuck,” Marlow said, “we can look to [others] and see how they’re finding new ways of being gender inclusive.