Voicing Non-Binary Student Issues

Independent Study w/ advisor Andrew Twigg 

Recipient of Victor NG Design Impact Award 2020 

Fall 2019 - Present

Problem Statement 

How might we improve the non-binary student experience at CMU in different aspects of community life, from student engagement and support to housing? 


While CMU provides great support to many groups on campus, there is a lack of a strong support system in place for members of the LGBTQ+ community. While many committed individuals  both on the side of the administration and within the student body are working to make this experience better, we noticed there were still places that needed intervention in the system. 

So we decided to tackle some of these issues in a 2 part project: first looking at the inclusion of non-binary students into gendered communities, then looking at the first year housing experience for non-binary students.   


User Research, Systems Thinking


Annalisa Pao & Evelyn DiSalvo

Part 1: Queering Club Sports

Conducting Research

For the first part of the project, we looked at the inclusion of non-binary students into gendered communities on campus, specifically club sports. Club sports at CMU are predominantly divided by men's teams and women's teams, which excludes non-binary students from being able to join these organizations.  

When beginning to solve this problem, we first identified the members of the community that we were going to work with throughout our design process. We took an approach that relied heavily on our stakeholders, as the problem was so personal to specific communities. 

So to conduct our research, we sent out surveys to initially gain a sense of the culture within club sports as well as the non-binary community within CMU. We then delved into personal interviews with non-binary students, club sports captains, club sports coordinators, and Title IX. 

All of the stakeholders that we kept in mind throughout our process are outlined in the map below. 

Creating Interventions

After conducting our research, we created an initial draft of solutions that could be implemented. We then held a participatory design workshop with club sports team captains, and non-binary students to assess the solutions that we proposed as well as determine the feasibility of these solutions. 


After the workshop, we created a conversation booklet as our primary intervention, a booklet that would act as a guide for the leaders of the club sports teams to make their teams more gender inclusive and welcoming to non-binary students.  

Additional Interventions

The conversation booklet is just one stage of interventions. As we continue to work on this project, we would suggest considering these larger scale interventions as well in the future. 

1. Mandatory Gender Inclusivity Training for Club Sports Captains 

2. Implementing Locker Room Privacy as a safe space for non-binary students 

3. Adding a designated Title IX officer that deals with non-binary issues to the campus. 

Part 2: The Non-Binary Student First Year Housing Experience

The second part of the project looked at how we could improve the first year housing experience for non-binary students. All students when coming to CMU need to live on on-campus housing and this process can be quite stressful for non-binary students as many of the dorms are divided by gender, both by floor and within buildings. 

So we wanted to look at the manner in which housing deals with non-binary housing currently, and how this information is given to students coming to CMU. 

Understanding Housing

The first part of our research consisted of conducting interviews to understand how the housing system works currently. We conducted multiple interviews with our different stakeholders. We determined that the current gender inclusive option for students is a floor within Morewood Gardens, a dorm on campus. We then created a map which broke down all the information we had learned in the interviews. 

Conducting Secondary Research

When we were attempting to conduct our research and find information about CMU's current non-binary student housing option, we realized how difficult it was to obtain information about the housing situation. Nearly everything we knew we had learned through conducting interviews with people who put this system in place, a liberty that incoming students will not have. So we realized the first step of solving this problem was improving the manner in which information reaches incoming students

So we made a comparison matrix between CMU's gender inclusive housing page and the gender inclusive housing page of other comparable universities. This matrix allowed us to determine what changes we would want to make to the current housing website, in order to make the information more available to first year students. 

In the below diagram, the red represents difficult, the yellow represents somewhat difficult, and green represents easy. 

Creating an Intervention

We designed a new webpage to be incorporated into the CMU housing website which details necessary information about the Gender Inclusive Housing option available to students. We designed the site in CMU's current branding guidelines, so that the site could be easily incorporated into the current housing system. 

The first change we made was separating the gender inclusive option from "themed living" where it was located previously. Then on the page itself we included all the information that is commonly asked by incoming non-binary students about the floor. 

Implementation Process

Throughout this process we have been working with CMU staff members that are already highly involved in this space, including people in the Center of Student Diversity and Inclusion, and upper administration in student affairs. Our changes to the site redesign were implemented. Check it out here