The Student Government Association Student Senate approved legislation Feb. 8 that proposes gender-inclusive housing in residence halls.

If implemented, students of any gender identity will be able to opt-in to the program when they renew their housing contracts for an upcoming school year. SGA expects the option to be available by Fall 2018 as a small pilot program.

This legislation is a continuation of SGA’s push for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, following a national trend last year. After talking with gender nonconforming students and Spectrum, the logical next step was to officially include these students in residence halls, said Bailey Loughlin, president pro-tempore of SGA and one of four authors of the legislation. 

Brandon Jones, president of Elliot hall council, is another co-author of this legislation. 

In order to accommodate the growing number of gender nonconforming students on campus, Kam Bontrager, former diversity and multicultural committee member and co-author of the legislation, said it is necessary to give every student, regardless of gender identity, a welcoming home away from home.

“Having the most comfortable environment for you and having this option can definitely ease that transition,” Bontrager said. “And as an orientation leader, knowing how scared some of these students are going from an old home to a new one — that huge step is scary — so having this can really ease that set of mind.”

SGA also wanted to be more competitive with other schools in the Mid-American Conference in terms of inclusivity for the LGBTQ community, Loughlin said. Currently, nine schools in the MAC offer some kind of gender-inclusive housing, while Ball State only offers an accommodation policy for transgender students.

“[The transgender accommodation program] doesn’t do the best that it could for our students, so we wanted to take it to the next step,” Loughlin said. “The accommodation works great, but it’s not very known.”

The opt-in program will be primarily offered to students who have lived on campus for at least two semesters. Right now, SGA intends for the program to be in residence halls that have pod-style bathrooms, such as Kinghorn Hall and Park Hall.

Before it’s available to students, SGA and the Residence Hall Association want to allot time for the rest of SGA to pass the legislation and to give Housing and Residence Life and the administration time to create policies regulating the program, Loughlin said.

The same measure has already passed in RHA. Kathy Berryhill a co-author of the legislation, on-campus caucus chair for SGA and issues and facilities director in RHA, witnessed both instances of the measure’s approval.

“I’m really happy it passed. I cried a little bit,” Berryhill said. “It allows me to be in a situation where I’m surrounded by all of my friends, not just the ones that fit into this mold in the little box.”

The bill passed in the Student Senate with a 31-1 vote. From here, it will have to pass through the rest of SGA and then the administration to be implemented. Representatives from SGA will meet with administrators from Housing and Residence Life next week to discuss details of the new legislation.