"If you don't understand yourself to be a girl or a boy, living in a space that's designated just for boys or just for girls feels really uncomfortable."
By
Michaela Morgan

4 May 2017 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 4 May 2017 - 3:25 PM

Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and Phillips Academy Andover in nearby Massachusetts are set to offer gender neutral dormitories in a step forward for trans and non-binary students at the progressive prep schools.

At Exeter, the co-educational institution is converting some of the existing single-sex dorms into gender neutral housing with private rooms for 20-or-so students, according to NPR.

Alex Myers was the first openly transgender student at Exeter and now—20 years later—is an English teacher at the prestigious school.

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Myers says that a dialogue was started with transgender and gender non-conforming students two years ago who were able to provide the school with suggestions on what needed improvement and what was working well.

"Consistently, what came up as 'what needs work' was housing," says Myers.

"If you don't understand yourself to be a girl or a boy, living in a space that's designated just for boys or just for girls feels really uncomfortable."

The head of Phillips Academy Andover John Palfrey says the mission of the school is to “bring young people from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all backgrounds — and, frankly, from all gender and sexuality backgrounds.

“I see this as entirely in keeping with our long tradition," Palfrey adds.

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During the consultation process at Exeter, Myers says that teachers were cautious about separating transgender students from the rest of the school.

"That was something we talked about intensively: Are we kind of skimming off a population and taking diversity away from our dorms?"

But ultimately, the new housing areas are designed to be safe spaces for transgender students to live.

"I knew kids who got relentlessly hazed and bullied in their dorms,” says former student Liza Brecher.

“If they had had a safe place to go home to, that would have made all the difference."