ResLife considers mixed-gender housing

Laura Geggel

Male and female students may soon be able to live together in Washington University housing.

Residential Life (ResLife) sent out an online questionnaire to all undergraduates on Monday to determine if there is a need for mixed gender housing.

Mixed-gender housing would accomodate both transgender students and friends of opposite genders who wish to live together.

“We actually get more requests for mixed gender [from male and female students] than we do from transgender students,” said Rob Wild, associate director of ResLife and chair of Task Force, a group of students and faculty who brainstorm ways to improve the University housing system. “We usually get between five and ten groups each year that come forward and request mixed gender. They’re usually just friends from freshmen floors.”

ResLife does not currently have a mixed gender policy as all suites and apartments are limited to a single biological sex.

“We try to make reasonable accommodations for any student request. We certainly have had situations in the past where students came out and identified as transgender, and we’ve made accommodations for them,” said Wild.

ResLife, Student Union and Task Force are working together to make mixed-gender housing a campus reality. They approached the issue last year, but senior members in the administration thought that mixed-gender housing would be controversial and did not know if there was an immediate student need.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for students Justin Carroll said that Task Force raised an important issue regarding mixed-gender housing, but they “needed to spend more time making more students aware” before the University could consider such an option.

Task Force will share the ResLife survey results with the administration along with a report on mixed-gender housing. Depending on the results, the housing option could be determined as early as next semester.

The survey includes questions asking if students would take advantage of mixed-gender housing if it were available, if students would be supportive of mixed-gender housing and where, if such an option existed.

If mixed-gender housing were to be implemented, ResLife would set up a pilot program the first year in either the Village or Greenway.

“If it’s successful, [we would] expand it to all of our upperclassmen housing,” said Wild, adding that freshmen would not be eligible for mixed-gender housing.

Members of the Pride Alliance have worked closely with Task Force on the mixed-gender housing option.

“One of the reasons [transgender housing] gets wrapped up in the mixed-gender housing conversation is that offering a mixed-gender option would allow transgender students to have a safe housing option where they wouldn’t have to identify themselves as transgender,” said Wild.

One transgender student, who has requested anonymity, said that he felt unsure when asking ResLife to live with non-transgender men who were friends of his. “Currently ResLife will accommodate students on a case by case basis. But I didn’t know that then, so when I approached them about a mixed-gender housing situation, I had no idea what they were going to say or do. I did research to back up my feelings about it in case they said no,” said the anonymous student.

The student believes that if ResLife clarified their policies, students would reap greater benefits. They curently handle mixed-gender housing requests on a case by case basis.

“ResLife really needs to be more clear about their stance of helping students on a case by case basis. There might be more students who aren’t seeking them out, who don’t know that they can – not just for mixed-gender situations but for other housing situations as well,” said the student. Because the current system does not include mixed-gender housing, the student and his friends could not enter the housing lottery.

Instead, ResLife handled their case separately and placed them in a dorm before campus lottery results were released.

“It was very generous of them, but I do wish there were a formal policy,” said the student. “Everyone should be able to have that option as part of the lottery.”

More publicity and information, says the student, could help students take advantage of ResLife’s mixed-gender housing resources.

“A lot of transgender youth have issues with housing because they’re forced to house with folks they don’t identify with,” said Charles Janski, 2005 alum from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. Janski manages a transgender youth group at the Health and Education for Youth and Young Adults Center in St. Louis.

Janski said that living with people identifying with another gender can be stressful, “especially for male to female youth. If they have to live with guys and they identify as a woman, that’s just as inappropriate for a woman who’s not transgender to be forced to live with a bunch of college guys.”

Mixed-gender housing is hardly a novel concept. Task Force has been interviewing peer universities with already existing mixed-gender housing programs. Case Western Reserve University in Ohio has operated co-ed suites and apartments for upperclassmen over the past eight years.

“What we find is students who live in co-ed suites or apartments are probably some of the most satisfied students in their living environment,” said Alma Sealine, associate director of Residential Life at Case Western.

There are concerns of heterosexual couples living together, but incidents in mixed gender suites tend to be rare.

“At the time of room selection, we do not ask if anybody is a couple,” said Sealine. “The students just put together their preference and if the suite is filled and everyone has said that they’ve agreed to it, then that’s all the information we ask for.”

Sealine said that some parents of prospective freshmen raise their eyebrows at Case Western information sessions, but they tend to let their children choose their own living situations.

“Mixed-gender housing isn’t just a transgender issue. It’s everybody’s issue. Students should be able to make choices about who they live with,” said the anonymous student. “If they can live off campus with whoever they choose regardless of gender, we should be able to do so on campus in a mature manner.”

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