IHC survey gauges thoughts on gender-neutral housing

By Tyler Warner

Students of different sexes may be able to share dorm rooms next year if a measure currently under consideration by the Inter-House Council (IHC) is adopted by University administrators.

This past week, IHC conducted a survey to assess student reaction to a gender-neutral University housing policy. The survey was distributed to the 2,700 students currently living in University housing. By the time the survey period ended on Friday, IHC had received about 80 responses.

The council plans to use the survey results, coupled with its own research, to present a proposal to University administrators by spring break, said second-year and IHC Vice President Dana Lutennegger.

While the results of the survey have not been completely tabulated, the feedback has been mostly positive so far, with only a small number of students opposed to any sort of coed housing, according to IHC representatives.

This survey is not the first time that gender-neutral housing has been discussed on campus, said Katie Callow-Wright, director of Housing and Dining Services. The administration has been considering gender-neutral housing for several years because of an increasing number of students who have come to the housing office due to concerns about their lack of options.

But Callow-Wright said practical considerations have kept the University from moving ahead with alternative housing options. Among these issues is the amount of space to be allotted to mixed-gender rooms and to whom these rooms should be made available.

“This is certainly not entirely a girlfriend/boyfriend issue,” stated Lutenegger. “It is about a wider range of groups and individuals who will be affected by this.”

Representing some of those affected groups, Queers and Associates (Q&A) has worked closely with IHC in support of a gender-neutral housing system.

Second-year Daniel Shannon, a member of Q and A, said gender-neutral housing most directly benefits students who do not identify with their birth gender as well as those who would be uncomfortable living with a roommate of the same sex. The system could also benefit students who simply want to live with a friend or partner of the opposite sex.

Shannon and fellow Q&A member Sarah Bouchat, also a second-year, speculate that many LGBTQ students move off campus because of the lack of a coed option.

While the basic idea of gender-neutral housing is the availability of coed rooms within a dorm setting, there are several ways in which it could be implemented. Coed rooms may only be available in specific dorms, and it is unlikely that coed rooms will be available to first-years.

Q&A proposes a slightly more drastic plan. Shannon said the group would like to see gender-neutral housing eventually become the default housing option, causing students to be specifically required to designate that they want a same-sex roommate on their housing applications. Under this system, students would not be forced to disclose their sexuality to their parents. However, Shannon said single-gender rooms and floors should remain available.

“By making the default housing option gender-neutral, it really reinforces the institution’s position that [LGBTQ] students are normal,” Bouchat said.

Lutenegger said the University could begin to see gender-neutral housing by the beginning of next school year if there is enough support from both students and faculty.

“We’re probably not going to see anything too drastic yet. We’ll probably start with a small test group to assess its impact and extend it from there,” Lutenegger said.

So far, the housing office has not received any formal opposition to the proposal from student groups or individuals. However, members of both the administration and the IHC expect that there will be more discussion from both sides of the issue once the proposal is finalized.

“This is really only the beginning of the discussion,” Callow-Wright said.

Gender-neutral housing has become a major topic of discussion at colleges across the country. Coed bedrooms are already available at a number of schools, including Swarthmore College and Wesleyan University. Several other institutions, including Harvard University, are considering proposals for coed housing.

Current coed housing options at the U of C include coed bathrooms in some dorms. Additionally, plans for the new dorm currently under construction at East 61st Street and South Ellis Avenue include single-user bathrooms in each house, designed for students who are uncomfortable with public, gender-specific restrooms.