Gender-neutral housing application creates challenges, students say

Students face obstacles when applying to live in mixed-gender housing

meyer-ns-copeley
Open housing is currently offered at certain upperclassmen apartment complexes and graduate student housing units — including Bice, Copeley, Faulkner, Lambeth and Brandon Avenue residences. The Cavalier Daily staff | Cavalier Daily

Several students who applied for open housing the gender inclusive on-Grounds housing option at U.Va. — faced numerous challenges when applying for housing for the 2019-2020 school year. 

Housing and Residence Life has offered an open housing option for upperclass students since the 2015-2016 academic year in which individuals can request a roommate independent of one’s gender identity. However, the option is currently only offered at certain upperclassmen apartment complexes and graduate student housing units — including Bice, Copeley, Faulkner, Lambeth and Brandon Avenue residences. 

According to the HRL webpage, open housing was first piloted for the 2015-2016 school year as a housing option for “students who wish to request roommates regardless of their sex or gender identity.” 

Prior to a resolution passed during a 2016 town hall meeting sponsored by the Student Council and the Queer Student Union, the University’s policy was to accomodate the needs of any transgender or non-binary student on a case-by-case basis. At the time, all first-year dorms and upperclassmen apartments were separated by gender. 

Following the resolution, the Copeley Apartments became open to anyone regardless of gender and were no longer divided strictly into male or female apartments. 

The response was positive and in the 2016 fall semester, HRL and QSU partnered to create the gender-neutral housing initiative now known as open housing. That year, open housing was available at Bice House, Copeley, Faulkner and Lambeth Field Apartments. The new Brandon Avenue apartments — which are slated to open in August — will also feature an open housing option.

Fourth-year College student and Student Council president Alex Cintron has taken an extensive role in promoting open housing during his time at the University. He first raised the question of instituting open housing in first-year dorms during a 2015 Student Council meeting. Since then, the topic has been debated throughout the University. 

“Under Sarah Kenny's term last year, we were able to create the Open Housing Advisory Board (OHAB) in partnership with QSU, who has always had this as one of their priorities and who have done extensive work on the subject,” Cintron said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.  

According to HRL, this initiative mirrored the option to live in a mixed-gender household that off-Grounds housing provided, while also allowing students to live on-Grounds for as long as they desired. 

Since then, the program has expanded to all on-Grounds upperclassmen apartment areas and graduate student housing. 

Still, there is contention over the fact that there is not a similar option for first-year students who are required to live in randomly assigned dorms but may not feel comfortable residing in single-sex halls.  

“Open housing policies will remain inadequate until the option is extended to First Years,” Cintron said. “Student Council this semester, with the appointment of our new Diversity Engagement Chair, is seeking to jumpstart those conversations again and make it a priority in the last weeks of this term.”

According to Associate Dean of Students Andy Petters, no rooms are set aside in first-year dormitories for open housing, and the entire process is run through the same application portal as the regulation housing application. He also said that “[the] reaction has been positive” and “there have been no challenges that we are aware of regarding open housing.”

“100% of students who seek open housing and follow our process receive it,” Petters said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “The number [of students who apply] varies [from] year to year.”

Petters did not comment on how many students apply for open housing each year. 

The program is appealing to students who want to live in a mixed-gender housing situation or who do not conform to traditional gender assignments. 

“I ended up applying for open housing just because I was having a hard time finding a group of girls that I wanted to live with, and I had a close guy friend who wanted to live with us,” said first-year College student Julia Buccholz in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “It became most convenient to do that, and it became more convenient to add more people into our group so that we would have priority with choosing housing.”

However, Buccholz added there is little information available on the HRL website as to how the process works. In addition, students say that it is considerably more challenging than applying to live in a single-gender household. According to Buccholz, HRL’s online website was unable to handle mixed-gender roommates.

All students must submit an email to HRL declaring that they agree to open housing. If approved, HRL will then manually add all group members into the system.  

“I had to go around asking people how I could add people of the other gender into my group because you can only add people of the same gender into your group if you are the group leader,” Buccholz said. 

Once Buccholz’s group was assigned their designated time slot to choose housing, they could only select from a limited number of rooms. Additionally, the group leader was only allowed to assign beds within the apartment to members of the same gender.  

“There are certain rooms only available to females and certain rooms only available to males, but it depends on [the gender of] the group leader which rooms are available,” Buccholz said. “When assigning rooms and beds, as group leader you can only assign yourself and people of the same gender and then you have to call [HRL] to manually put the others in… Because of that we ended up missing out getting a place that we wanted.”

However, Buccholz commented that the University could make the application process more transparent and easy to understand so students don’t miss out on their preferred housing locations. 

“I would hope that the school would put this process out step-by-step online. That may steer people away from this but it just seems very vague,” Buccholz said. “There is just so little information about the process so some people may be scared about that.”

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