Survey shows overwhelming student support for gender-neutral housing option

BY CHELSEY DAMBRO
For the Daily
Published April 1, 2010

Results of a survey recently sent out to students to gauge their views on gender-neutral housing were released this week and show that a majority of students support the initiative.

The Gender Neutral Housing Coalition — a committee formed by student representatives of the Residence Hall Association, the Michigan Student Assembly and other campus organizations — sent out the survey to students living in University Housing on March 17. The survey ran for a week and ended on March 24.

Of the 9,545 students who received the survey, 19 percent responded. Out of the students that responded, 38 percent said they would select gender-neutral housing as an option. And while 67 percent responded that gender-neutral housing would be a welcome option for the University Housing community, 19 percent disagreed. Out of the 1,785 respondents, 91 percent said they identify as heterosexual.

The survey asked other questions like how likely students would be to return to University Housing if gender-neutral options were available. Of the students who responded, 34 percent said they would consider returning if the option was available, while 52 percent said they remained indifferent.

The survey also asked whether students would choose a same-gender roommate or a roommate of a different gender. The majority of students — 60 percent — said they would choose a same-gender roommate, while 15 percent said they would choose a roommate of a different gender.

Renagh O’Leary, chair of the University’s undergraduate chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — which was involved in the push for gender-neutral housing — said the results of the survey match her expectations.

Gender-neutral housing advocates created the survey knowing that they would receive strong student support, she said.

“I am optimistic about making progress even before the school year ends to implement gender-neutral housing more fully,” she said.

Gender-neutral housing has been a much-discussed issue on campus this year, and was a focus of both the Michigan Student Assembly and LSA Student Government elections.

MSA President Chris Armstrong has been a vocal advocate of gender-neutral housing, which was a central push of his party MForward’s recent campaign.

Gender-neutral housing will be at the top of MSA’s agenda come fall, Armstrong said in an interview last night.

“The ball will be rolling within the administration and among students to work together to implement gender-neutral housing,” he said.

Armstrong said he thinks the best way to do this is to create a working group — made up of both administrators and students — within University Housing to discuss the best ways to bring gender-neutral options to residence halls.

In a similar attempt to quantify student support for a gender-neutral housing option, the topic was also a component of the LSA-SG ballot during last month’s elections. The question was put onto the ballot in an effort to reach out to a larger body of students who are no longer living in the residence halls.

On LSA-SG’s online ballot, students were asked to respond to whether they support gender-neutral housing in the residence halls. The ballot question stated that students would have the ability to choose gender-neutral housing as an option and if implemented, students would still be able to choose to live with students of the same gender.

The proposal also stated that students wouldn’t be placed with someone of a different gender if they choose to room blind.

LSA Freshman Katie McGillis — a resident of Alice Lloyd Residence Hall who took the survey — said that while she’s in favor of gender-neutral housing, she’s concerned about the Gender Neutral Housing Coalition's implications.

“I think that gender neutral housing is a good idea for students who don't feel comfortable rooming with someone of their same sex,” she said. “It should be an option for these students, but I don't think it should be mandatory in any dorm because I think that most people would not feel comfortable rooming with a person of the opposite sex.”

Kinesiology junior Kyle Feinauer said he didn’t take the survey and was indifferent to the idea of gender-neutral housing. He said that co-ed halls already exist, so having a gender-neutral hall wouldn’t change the environment of the residence halls for him.

Rackham graduate student Jessica Johnson said that at the university where she completed her undergraduate degree there were situations in which people felt uncomfortable living in same-sex arrangements.

She said that gender-neutral housing would be a great step, especially if it will keep the University from lagging behind other universities already implementing gender-neutral housing policies.

LSA sophomore Alex Edwards, a resident of East Quad Residence Hall, said he feels gender-neutral housing should be an option available to all students and is a matter of human rights.

“At a university that prides itself on creating a comfortable and welcoming environment for its students, not having a gender-neutral housing option is a huge injustice,” Edwards said. “Providing a gender-neutral housing option is a simple yet meaningful step in the struggle for equality on behalf of the transgendered community and University at large. “

Members of the Gender Neutral Housing Coalition will be meeting today to draw up a comprehensive resolution using the results of the survey, according to O’Leary.