Trey Ufholcz says he became interested in the issue of
gender-neutral housing during his field placement in the UB Gender
When UB introduced gender-neutral housing at the start of the
fall semester, the new policy reflected not only best practices in
residential living for college students nationwide, it also
incorporated a transgendered student’s thoughtful analysis
and the ethical principles of social work he holds dear.
Unlike traditional housing that separates students by sex,
gender-neutral housing allows male and female students to live
within the same residence hall room or campus apartment. The
program, now in a pilot phase, sets aside two floors in the
Ellicott Complex, plus several apartments in Hadley and Creekside
villages, expressly for this purpose.
Trey Ufholcz, MSW ’12, became interested in this topic
during his field placement at the UB Gender Institute, which
supports research and teaching related to women, gender and
sexuality. Patricia Shelly, the center’s then-associate
director, supervised his work there.
“Pat allowed me the opportunity and choice to research and
advocate change in university policies to uphold equality for all
students,” Ufholcz says. Diane E. Elze, associate professor
of social work and director of the MSW program, also influenced his
research “through her support and encouragement to hold
myself and those around me to our ethical responsibility to foster
equality for all people.”
Ufholcz was researching homelessness and the lack of safe
housing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)
youth in Erie County. This inspired him, along with his work at the
Pride Center of Western New York, which advocates for LGBTQ people.
He soon realized that UB students were experiencing similar issues
to what he was observing in his fieldwork.
“We encountered a lot of LGBTQ youth who were homeless,
but they weren’t recognized as being homeless because they
were couch-surfing at friends’ or neighbors’
homes,” he says. “I felt I needed to start here at UB
and make the campus a welcoming place for LGBTQ students before
going to the community.”
Ufholcz teamed up with Brian Haggerty, senior associate director
of campus living, and James Bowman, special populations outreach
coordinator in Wellness Education Services, to research national
trends on campus housing and gender equity, and to develop a
suitable proposal for UB’s residence halls.
“A safe living space is necessary for the wellness of the
student body,” says Ufholcz. “Moreover, the
university’s nondiscrimination policy includes gender
identity so as to recognize and support differences, and all
policies—including housing—should be reflective of
this. Gender-neutral housing allows for self-determination by
allowing students the choice to make decisions regarding their own
Nearly 90 U.S. colleges and universities currently offer
gender-neutral or gender-inclusive housing in one form or another,
according to the Transgender Law & Policy Institute. UB’s
new policy on gender-neutral housing “advances the university
to peer-status with other research institutions,” says
Ufholcz. “It also increases resident retention by providing
another housing option and creates a viable alternative to local
The group’s proposal ultimately led to an executive
summary that Haggerty presented to Dennis R. Black, vice president
for university life and services. Black approved the option and the
policy was announced last June.
About 40 students are participating this semester in the pilot
program, which is expected to attract a broad range of students,
from those who identify as LGBTQ to those who wish to live with
friends of the opposite sex.
“The role of the university is not to determine with whom
students may or may not live, but rather to empower its students to
make their own decisions responsibly,” Andrea Costantino,
director of campus living, said when the policy was announced.
Ufholcz says the availability of gender-neutral housing supports
affected individuals while upholding the principles of his field.
“The NASW (National Association of Social Workers) Code of
Ethics calls for social and political action that emphasizes the
ethical responsibility to advocate for all people so they have
equal access to resources and opportunities. It also states that
social workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all
people and promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural
and social diversity,” he says.
“Finally, it calls on social workers to prevent and
eliminate discrimination. Traditional housing discriminates through
heteronormative assumptions—a view that gender roles are
fixed to one’s biological sex—and upholds people to
traditional gender roles that are not accommodating to the entire
Now based in Florida, Ufholcz is researching alternatives for
LGBTQ youth in foster care, such as the Host Home program in
Minnesota. “This community-based program can be implemented
without state or federal funding, as qualifying adults volunteer to
open their homes to LGBTQ youth who do not have one,” he
As Ufholcz embarks on his professional career, the launch of
UB’s new housing policy brings him profound satisfaction.
“Knowing that students at UB currently have the choice of
gender-neutral housing makes everything I did