In the late 60s/early 70s, Life magazine was calling coed dorms “an intimate revolution on campus,” according a recent Boston Globe article. Over the years, our universities have come a long way. All-male campuses began including women and all-female campuses began letting in their male counterparts. Then, as things progressed over the years, colleges began with coed floors, allowing men and women share the same floors and sometimes even bathrooms in dormitories. Today, the National Student Genderblind Campaign and over 50 colleges campuses across the nation have taken the next step in this “intimate revolution” – gender neural housing.
What does it mean? After pressure from student groups and national campaigns, colleges are allowing men and women to share rooms. At first, this step in the revolution began at socially liberal institutions only, but over the past couple years, has spread out to national universities.
“Want to have the option of rooming with whom you choose, regardless of their gender? We think so too,” the National Student Genderblind Campaign group writes on their website. “Traditional rooming policies—those without gender-neutral options,” they say, “—are heterosexist, oppressive, and anti-affirmative.”
While some college campuses and administrators are all for this new evolution of dorming policies, many parents and traditional administrators are also afraid of the consequences.
Supporters of the new trend are saying that this is an important advance for the homosexual and transgender students, allowing them to feel comfortable and welcome, as well as eliminating gender segregation in the college environment.
On the other hand, opponents of the policies are afraid that students who are romantically involved will be able to select the gender neutral option, causing parents to worry and problems in the future in case of a break-up. Relationships may end mid-year, but housing assignment do not. Parents and administrators opposing the policy changes say that the do not want to promote promiscuity. This concern is causing many housing applications to list a disclaimer such as the one on Stanford’s housing website, which says “This program is intended for students who wish to share a room or apartment with friends of a different gender. It is not intended for romantic couples.”
Yale students have, so far, unsuccessfully campaigned for the policy change for quite a while, staging events and even “sleep-ins” on campus to promote their cause. To find out more about Yale’s gender-neutral initiative, check out yale.genderblind.org. Despite Yale college dean, Mary Miller’s statement last March about not offering gender neutral housing for the 2009-’10 housing cycle, a task force of administrators has been formed to explore the issue further.
Another problem for parents, such as blogger Rod Dreher, is that students are marking off or just signing paperwork without knowing what they are signing up for in their housing policy. Dreher’s daughter had signed the housing policy without her parent’s knowledge when Stanford had begun trying out the new policy. “We found out about the gender-neutral pilot project only after the fact,” he says, “Nothing indicated to parents that they ought to inquire about this policy.”
Dean of student affairs at Tufts University, Bruce Reitman, told the Boston Globe that they are willing to allow coed suites but that coed bedrooms raise practical and moral concerns.
Many colleges have gender-neutral bathrooms and specific housing for gay, lesbian, and transgender students and some allow male and female undergraduates to share a suite or apartment on campus, but are still reluctant to allow gender neutral rooms.
Many other colleges are, however, welcome to the idea. Dartmouth, for example, states that they “”seeks to provide a living environment welcoming to all gender identities; one not limited by the traditional gender binary” in their housing application.
On the National Student Genderblind Campaign website, the group quotes The Harvard College Democrats, who, in their statement to support the “Rooming Choice Act,” said, “The proper role of the college is not to determine with whom students may or may not live, but rather to empower its students to make their own decisions responsibly.”
Gender-neutral housing, due to the infancy of the policy and the concerns over its implementation, will certainly remain a hot topic for parents, students and university administrators for quite a long time. Despite its controversy, what do you think about the policy? If you have lived in a gender-neutral room, please share your experience.
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