NEWS

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June 2, 2009

Fifty students choose gender neutral housing for fall

Correction appended

Fifty students will live with members of the opposite sex next year as the first full-year adopters of the Open Housing system offered in the fall. This represents just under 2 percent of students in campus housing. The students will live in Max Palevsky, Blackstone, Burton-Judson, Pierce, and the new dorm.

Open Housing was passed last year to ensure that students feel comfortable when making roommate decisions, but only went into effect after students entered the housing lottery last year. Queers and Associates, an LGBTQ advocacy group on campus, argued that transgender students can feel uncomfortable when forced to room with students that share their biological—but not self-identified—gender when they advocated for the change last year.

Director of Undergraduate Student Housing Katie Callow-Wright said that, although the students who chose Open Housing were a small minority, they represent “an important number in terms of meeting a need here.”

First-years will continue to be placed with roommates of the same gender. Students who choose a roommate of the opposite sex do not have to state a reason for their roommate choice, and no student is required to live with a roommate of the opposite sex. Open Housing will be offered in all dorms, except for those that are currently same-sex.

Ten students took advantage of the option this winter and spring.

While the policy was partially formulated to make transgender students feel more comfortable in their housing decisions, several students said that their sexual orientation wasn’t the main reason they decided to live together.

“You ask yourself, ‘Who do I feel comfortable rooming with? Who am I good friends with?’” said first-year Justin Garbacz, who will be living with one male and two female roommates next year in Max Palevsky Central. “It was less about our sexualities and more that we’re all good friends.”

Garbacz, who is gay, said he would have lived with another male if he couldn’t find another living arrangement. “I know a bunch of straight guys that I could have easily lived with. The orientation thing is not a big deal.”

Second-year Jennifer Thall, who plans to live in the new dorm with one male and two female roommates this fall, said Open Housing made finding a roommate much easier. “Easily the biggest benefit, for myself, for Open Housing was that it literally doubled the group of people with whom I could choose to live with,” she said in an e-mail interview. “So many of my friends are moving out of housing, if they haven’t already. It’s difficult to find a roommate situation that works, as in terms of cleanliness or noise level, etc.”

The U of C’s gender-neutral housing program is unique in calling itself “open housing,” Callow-Wright said. She added that the committee of students who chose the name felt they were “taking away some of the psychological barriers with the words ‘neutral’ or ‘blind,’ which appear in other colleges’ policies.

Open Housing received substantial student attention when it was undergoing review. “I think once we announced that the policy was being implemented, the attention on it by students quieted down.” Callow-Wright said.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that first-years are eligible for Open Housing assignments after fall quarter. Only upperclassmen may live in dorm rooms with members of the opposite gender.