SU lobbies for expansion of gender-neutral housing

Awaiting decision from ResLife, administration

Student Union Senate passed a resolution Wednesday recommending that the Office of Residential Life expand its gender-neutral housing program.

The proposal seeks to make gender-neutral housing, currently offered by the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) under a limited pilot program, an available option for all upperclass housing on the North Side and for all off-campus, University-owned apartments starting in the fall of 2009.

The resolution was sent to ResLife and the University administration last Friday, according to SU senator Chase Sackett, a junior, who supported the resolution.

Associate Dean of Students Jill Stratton said she is not aware of ResLife making any firm decisions about gender-neutral housing for the fall of 2009 at this time.

“My understanding is that the University is assessing the success of the gender-neutral pilot program that has been implemented this year,” Stratton wrote in an e-mail to Student Life. “Since we are not quite halfway through with the year, we do not have a full picture or all the information on how this year is progressing.”

Sackett believes that implementing gender-neutral housing would serve as a great direction for the University.

“The Senate passed it unanimously (22-0), which I think was a great example of the student body strongly supporting gender-neutral housing expansion,” Sackett said. “[This] would be a really great step for the University to take.”

The pilot program, operating in Greenway Apartments and the Village with 30 students, was launched this fall following a SU resolution last year for a pilot program, and resulted from a survey conducted by ResLife in Dec. 2006 that indicated 74 percent of students would consider gender-neutral housing if it were an option.

In a more recent survey from this past October, residents in the current pilot program responded positively to their experiences so far and suggested the program be expanded to a full housing option.

Sackett, the SU representative in the Housing Selection Task Force, introduced the resolution to SU earlier this semester after learning about the results from the recent survey.

“We were talking about the reasoning behind [gender-neutral housing] and the results from [the pilot program],” he said. “I thought, why not expand it? It made the most sense.”

Sackett noted that gender-neutral housing might provide a greater comfort zone and more options for transgender students and others in the LGBT community.

“It’s supportive to transgender students, who may not be comfortable coming forward to self-identify,” he said. “I’ve spoken with Pride Alliance, which is solidly behind the resolution.”

Pride Alliance Public Relations Chair Malcolm Ray, who was present at the Senate’s vote, said that Pride Alliance is satisfied with the resolution’s mission and progress toward gender-neutral housing so far.

“Non-gender neutral housing assumes that gender is differentiated in a binary way. There are students at the University who are transgender or intersex—not the majority, but [Pride Alliance] and the University still have a duty to stand up for those who are not represented,” Ray said.

Ray, a junior, believes that gender-neutral housing would promote greater equality in housing and, unlike non-gender-neutral housing, would not force students to conform to a gender with which they do not identify.

“Especially in a residential situation, when you really create a sense of home, you should feel comfortable with being who you are,” he said. “But just on a basic level: non-gender-neutral housing is a little outdated.”

Although gender-neutral housing serves the purpose of providing a more comfortable environment for LGBT students, SU’s resolution does not specify that the option will be offered discriminately.

Gender-neutral housing has been made available in approximately two dozen other institutions nationwide, including New York University, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Michigan and six of the eight Ivy League schools.

“We have done extensive research on what other peer institutions have done in this area. Specifically, we have spoken with staff at NYU and Case Western as well as conducted research into other programs that provide gender-neutral housing,” Stratton wrote.

Vice Chancellor for Students James McLeod said that he might not necessarily look to the University’s peer institutions to help him make the decision.

“For many decisions, I don’t use our peers as a guide,” McLeod said. “We have a certain tradition [in] housing. From time to time, we change that tradition. This is a community decision; all of us have a stake in housing.”

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