Every college first-year student has the same fears. Will their assigned roommate become a friend for life, or will it become a complete disaster? Will you have hours of fun playing Casino Classic games together? Or you will fight about who left the cap off of the toothpaste?
But things are at a new confusion with Biden saying that transgender people, under Title IX Gender Identity Protections, must be allowed to dorm with their gender identity and not their gender assigned at birth.
What is Title IX and how does it apply to colleges (1972)?
Title IX is the federal civil rights law. It was passed as part of an Educational Amendment in 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. It was passed to protect women who wanted to attend college.
It was intended to update the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned several different forms of discrimination in employment, but did not include anything about education.
What is Title VII Equal Employment Opportunity (1964)?
This law prohibits discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Covered employers are employers who have 15 or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Title VII also prohibits discrimination against an individual because of their association with another individual of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, such as by an interracial marriage.
In very narrowly defined situations, an employer is permitted to discriminate on the basis of a protected trait if the trait is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.
To make a BFOQ defense, an employer must prove three elements: a direct relationship between the trait and the ability to perform the job; the BFOQ’s relation to the “essence” or “central mission of the employer’s business”, and that there is no less restrictive or reasonable alternative.
In other words, if the job is a Religious school teacher, saying only people who are of that religion can teach religious studies is a valid reason to say only people of that religion can do the job.
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)?
This is another Civil Rights Act that was designed to protect people with disabilities from discrimination based on a disability. It is another extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Covered employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. This includes educational institutions.
Example College: RIT/NTID
RIT/NTID stands for Rochester Institute of Technology and the National Technical Insitute for the Deaf.
It is two colleges that share the same campus and general facilities, and on top of that, there are deaf students who are co-enrolled in both colleges.
So obviously, RIT/NTID had to deal with the whole issue of where and how to house the students. Not to mention that since it had gotten the reputation of being disability friendly, other students with other disabilities enrolled in the college.
What were the housing options at RIT/NTID in general?
Hearing and Deaf related options:
- Hearing only floors
- Deaf only floors
- Mixture of hearing and deaf students on the floor. Only students who specifically selected this option were put on these floors.
Even on the mixed floor, the college would only initially assign a deaf student to a room with another deaf student. A hearing student was initially assigned to a room with another hearing student. But if a deaf student and a hearing student wanted to be roommates, it was allowed.
Other “special” floors:
- Female only floor
- Male only floor
- General mixed female and male
- Over 21 floor
- Options based on major or interests
In terms of bathrooms, there were bathrooms that were shared by 3 rooms, and there were bathrooms that were shared by the whole floor, 1 or 2 for females and 1 or 2 for males. Now they even have rooms that have their own bathroom (old hotel that was converted to dorms).
In terms of occupancy, there were single occupancy and multiple occupancies.
And they even have studio apartments, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedrooms, and even 4 bedrooms.
How were exceptions to the norm handled?
An exception that I can remember is a friend who was blind and had a seeing-eye dog. They placed him in a double occupancy room on the first floor with no roommate, but charged him a rate as if he shared with a roommate.
The school understood that they could not place another student to share a room with a blind person and his dog. He did end up with a friend who used to crash in the second bed of this person’s dorm room, but it was a free choice.
How should colleges handle Title IX and gender identity in relation to dorm rooms?
First, when people fill out their dorm applications, add standard options that exist in every dorm application.
- Would you dorm with a smoker? (Yes)
- Would you dorm with somebody outside your major? (Yes)
- Would you dorm with a transgender person of your same birth gender? (Yes)
- Would you dorm with a transgender person of a different birth gender? (Yes)
Going back to the RIT example, RIT has 19,000 students. The probability that not one single person would say they would not volunteer to dorm with a transgender person of their own sex or the opposite sex is very small. But in the case that nobody volunteers, just give the person a single-person room and charge them the rate as if they had a roommate. Same as what RIT did in the past with blind students who had seeing-eye dogs.
If anybody complains, ask, “Are you volunteering to room with this person?” In other words “put up or shut up.”
All of the Civil Rights Act have to do with not denying people jobs and educational opportunities based on religion, gender, physical disability, race, national origin, etc.
In terms of people with physical disabilities, it means providing reasonable accommodations. That means you can’t show up on the first day of class and then get angry that if you are deaf, the cooking class does not have timers that have lights on them. You have to give the school warning, so they can make reasonable accommodations.
Reasonable accommodations mean that in terms of college dorm rooms, every student has a place to sleep that is in as good of condition and standard as the majority of rooms all of the other students have. Unreasonable accommodations would be putting the transgender person into a room with a leaky ceiling when no other rooms are in that condition, and no attempt is being made to fix the problem.
For example, right after a hurricane when multiple rooms have been damaged, a transgender person can’t complain that they were not put at the top of the list to be fixed. A not acceptable response would be after the hurricane, every other room getting fixed, except yours.
Yes, the school should ask for volunteers, and if people volunteer, a roommate for you is chosen from within the group of volunteers.
In a worst-case scenario, if nobody volunteers to dorm with the transgender person, just give them a single-person room and charge them as if they have a roommate. Given how much people complain about student loans, if the transgender person still feels that is not “good enough”, then maybe they are in the wrong school and the person should change to a school where somebody will volunteer to be their roommate.
As the saying goes, “You pick the fights that are worth fighting.” Forcing a person to room with you who has no desire to room with you if not a fight worth fighting, when just asking for volunteers will get you a roommate that wants to room with you, and you may end up becoming a friend for life.