Toward Exclusion through Inclusion: Engendering Reputation with Gender-Inclusive Facilities at Colleges and Universities in the United States, 2001-2013

Gender and Society 32 (3):321-347 (2018)

Abstract

Ample sociological evidence demonstrates that binary gender ideologies are an intractable part of formal organizations and that transgender issues tend to be marginalized by a wide range of social institutions. Yet, in the last 15 years, more than 200 colleges and universities have attempted to ameliorate such realities by adopting gender-inclusive facilities in which students of any gender can share residential and restroom spaces. What cultural logics motivate these transformations? How can their emergence be reconciled with the difficulty of altering the gender order? Using an original sample of 2,036 campus newspaper articles, I find that support for inclusive facilities frames such spaces as a resource through which an institution can claim improved standing in the field of higher education. This process of engendering reputation allows traditional gender separation in residential arrangements to be overcome, but it also situates institutional responsiveness to transgender issues as a means of enhancing a college or university’s public prestige. This, in turn, produces novel status systems in the field of higher education—albeit ones that perpetuate familiar forms of institutional and cultural exclusion.

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