The administration has deferred a decision on whether to make a gender-neutral housing option available to students beginning next academic year. The decision comes after members of the Inter-House Council (IHC) expressed expectations that a recommendation they had drafted and presented to administrators would be approved in the coming weeks.
Housing Office staff and University administrators had been considering the option since the middle of last quarter, when an ad-hoc IHC committee finalized an “open-housing” proposal that, if implemented, would allow continuing undergraduates to share dorm rooms or apartments with members of the opposite sex.
In an e-mail sent to members of Student Government and the IHC last week, Vice President and Dean of Students Kimberly Goff-Crews said that she had postponed action after realizing that too narrow a sector of the campus community had been consulted during the decision-making process.
“As I reviewed the committee recommendation and learned about its process I recognized that some campus constituencies have not been included in the discussions of the past year,” Goff-Crews said in the e-mail. “This important step should not be overlooked and we need to address it. To that end, we will move this process forward by widening the discussion to include faculty, the larger student body, administrators who support student life, and other members of our community.”
Goff-Crews said that she expects a decision on IHC’s recommendation to be reached by the end of fall quarter. “If there are things we’ve missed, I need to understand,” she said in an interview, although she did not cite specific opposition to the recommendation by staff, students, or administrators.
Members of the IHC had hoped the recommendation would be approved in time for yesterday’s housing lottery, when students electing to remain in University housing bid for the following year’s assignments.
“I was really disappointed because I wanted the decision to be made by the housing lottery so next year’s students could have access to it,” said Aaron Goggans, an IHC member who served on the gender-neutral housing committee that drafted the recommendation. “I didn’t expect it, but I did see Kim Goff-Crews’s reasoning for it,” he said.
According to Goggans, most members of the IHC committee similarly received the decision. “We thought she was going to pass it…. [IHC members] were equally disappointed because they had been getting support and talking to students,” he said.
Following discussions within the University community, administrators will continue to hash out the logistics of implementing the option, Goff-Crews said. In the meantime, she will look to other universities that have already implemented similar policies for guidance, she said.
Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania are among the universities that offer some options for students who wish to live with members of the opposite sex.
Although in many instances the impetus for gender-neutral housing policies has been the increasing consideration given to transgendered and transsexual student needs, that will not be the main focus of the University of Chicago’s policy, said Katie Callow-Wright.
Instead, she said, the Housing Office will seek more generally to provide broader housing options to fulfill students’ wishes.
Currently, students who identify as members of the opposite sex, and who therefore may be uncomfortable in same-sex quarters, only have the option of living in single–person housing assignments, which can be ostracizing, Callow-Wright said.
According to Goff-Crews, the postponement is intended primarily as precautionary and procedural.
“It’s something that she doesn’t want to get wrong, and it makes sense,” Goggans said. “These kinds of things do take time, but as a student, I’m only here for two more years, and I want it implemented as soon as possible…. We just have different priorities.”