April 25, 2008

Gender-neutral housing likely to earn approval

A proposal to implement gender-neutral housing in University dorms beginning next year is currently under consideration by administrators. Several members of the student-run Inter-House Council (IHC) committee charged with drafting the proposal expect it to be approved in the coming weeks.

If approved as drafted, the proposal will allow students of the opposite sex to share rooms or apartments on floors currently designated as co-ed across the housing system, members of the committee said.

“It’s been flying through the administration,” said third-year Charles Thompson, chair of IHC, who was not on the committee.

According to fourth-year Julia Rotondo, a member of the IHC committee that drafted the “open housing” proposal, both Katie Callow-Wright and Ana Campos, director and associate director of University housing, have expressed support for the proposal.

Neither Callow-Wright nor Campos responded to several requests for comment.

In addition to Callow-Wright and Campos, the proposal must be approved by a line of administrators including President Robert Zimmer before it is sent back to the Housing Office for implementation, IHC members said.

There appears to be little to no opposition to the proposal among relevant administrators, they said.

If it is approved before the start of the May 6 housing lottery, current students will have the option of opting into gender-neutral housing beginning next year. Incoming first-years will not have that option until after the three-week freeze on housing assignments at the beginning of fall quarter, said Aaron Goggans, a member of the IHC open housing committee.

It is unclear how current students, who have already received information on participating in the upcoming housing lottery, will go about changing their assignments if the proposal is approved after May 6.

Specific implementation of the proposal will ultimately be left to the housing office to hash out. This includes the extent of open housing’s availability, including which dorms or floors will offer it. According to Rotondo, the committee recommended that floors currently designated as same-sex maintain that designation.

Students opting to live in opposite-sex housing assignments will require the consent of each member of an apartment, room, or suite sharing the same bathroom.

“I really hope everyone is going to sign off on it,” Rotondo said. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and I’m cautiously optimistic.”

IHC has been working on the proposal since the last academic year.

Last spring, IHC crafted a non-binding resolution in response to what some members called increased student interest in opposite-sex housing. The resolution encouraged the University administration to adopt a housing policy allowing students to select assignments “without restriction based on birth-assigned gender or gender-identification.”

The Council convened a working group to formulate a specific proposal, which was finalized last quarter.

The issue of gender-neutral housing has been raised at universities across the country in recent months, as a greater number of administrators and students have begun to view student self-identification as an important consideration in accommodating transgendered and transsexual student needs.

Same-sex housing can often pose complications for a biological male who identifies as a female, for example.

“[Same-sex housing] can be really alienating for students who don’t want it,” Goggans said. “[Our proposal] is the right thing to do, and my hope is that it will lead to a housing situation where everyone feels comfortable.”

Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University, among others, have all adopted some form of gender-neutral housing policies.