Seventeen Masters students at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) have moved into the new gender-neutral hostel on the campus. University officials say many students had sought residence in the hostel, but only 17 have been allotted spaces uptil now. In a significant step towards a gender-inclusive campus, the institute introduced what could be India’s first gender-neutral hostel space in April this year. The ground floor of an existing girls’ hostel has been marked as a gender-neutral space that can accommodate 20 MA students who identify as transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming.
The institute has now set up a committee and created guidelines to filter out applications and ensure that a safe space is created. “We want to create a safe space, a gender-neutral inclusive space that is also a non-abusive space. This is why we have come up with clear guidelines and a committee is looking at the applications,” said Asha Bano, the dean of student affairs. The committee’s role is to interview applicants and see whether the applicants are sensitive about gender-sexuality issues, she said.
“The hostel was imagined as a safe space for gender non-conforming individuals and their allies. It is a shared space and it is important to ensure that the residents are sensitive to co-residents,” said Diti Lekha, a student who identifies as transmasculine and is applying for residence at the hostel. Bano said that since the hostel is the first-of-its-kind, the institute has to put in place measures to ensure that the shared space is safe.
“At least for the first couple of years, we have to ensure that some checks and balances are in place,” she said.
In September last year, the student union passed a resolution in its general body meeting to demand a gender-neutral hostel space as well as gender-neutral toilets on campus.
Following dialogues with faculty members and administration over logistics, the institute finally agreed to create a hostel space for gender non-conforming students. Earlier this year, the institute also gave students the option to choose a gender-neutral salutation ‘Mx’, pronounced “mix”, in their certificates. So graduating students could choose from Ms, Mr, Mrs and Mx honorifics.
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