Breaking the binary

The University should offer gender neutral housing options

The University LGBTQ Center is currently exploring the prospect of gender neutral housing on Grounds. Gay Perez, executive director of Housing and Residence Life said the University “consider[s] requests related to undergraduate gender neutral arrangements on a case-by-case basis” and there is currently no explicit policy regarding gender neutral housing.

All University residence halls house men and women, but all floors, suites, apartments and bathrooms in residence halls are single-sex. Such arrangements do not allow much flexibility for students who may not feel comfortable living with all women or all men, and the segregation of the sexes into separate halls or suites may put transgender, gender fluid and intersex students in an uncomfortable position.

Transgender students may not fit into the categories prescribed by University Housing, as their physical sex may not be the same as their gender identity. Transgender students are given housing assignments on a case-by-case basis, and Residence Life emphasizes Safe Space training to all of its staff. But ideally, the University would offer gender neutral housing options so that no students would feel marginalized by an organizational structure which separates people into two rigid categories.

With a gender neutral housing policy, transgender students could be integrated into hall style and suite style dorms without having to go through any extra steps. They would also have the opportunity to pre-select roommates whom they know they would feel comfortable living with, even if the roommate might not be the same sex.

To implement such a policy, some dorm buildings could retain the current structure of separating men and women, for those who feel more comfortable with that arrangement, and other dorms could be designated gender neutral. Entering first-year students should be asked whether they prefer to live in single sex housing, gender neutral housing or if they have no preference. All students should also be able to request a roommate of the opposite sex. Students who apply to live in upper-class housing should be able to live in an apartment with men and women if they choose.

Students should also be given the option not to identify as either male or female. The highest court of Australia recently acknowledged the existence of a third “non-specific” gender, which can be used as legal identification in some cases. And last year Germany passed a law allowing children born with both male and female sex characteristics to be registered as neither male nor female. These are small steps toward recognizing that the categories of “man” and woman” cannot necessarily accommodate everyone. We cannot continue to shape our institutions — including our universities — around these rigid categories, for such practices impede equal treatment.

Gender neutral housing will benefit all students — not just LGBTQ students — because it provides more options and more freedom. Pride Week at the University has revived the conversation around this issue, and it is a proposal that everyone can get behind.

Published April 10, 2014 in Opinion

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