From the Daily: Not quite open enough

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 6, 2011

Before students left for Spring Break, progress was made toward enacting Open Housing at the University. The Michigan Student Assembly and supporters of the Open Housing Initiative have worked hard to motivate the University to implement this policy. And the University has worked hard to compromise on, rather than completely enact, this initiative. At a Feb. 23 round table, the University announced its plans to allow students who openly identify themselves as transgender to have roommates of their identified gender. While this proposed plan is progressive, it is far from complete. The University needs to allow gender-neutral housing for all University students, not just transgender students.

According to a Feb. 24 Michigan Daily article, the proposed policy is currently being drafted and is expected to take effect this fall. This decision represents progress. Members of the LGBTQ community need to feel comfortable and safe in their living environments, and the quicker this plan is put into place, the better. But this policy only protects a portion of the student community. And as MSA President Chris Armstrong said in the article, the plan is “a departure" from "the comprehensive gender-neutral housing policy the Open Housing Initiative requested.”

Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clement wasn’t a transgender student, but he took his life last September as a result of being victimized by his roommate because of his sexual orientation. As a response to this event, Rutgers University announced last week that it’s going to allow gender-neutral housing in some of its dormitories, according to a March 1 USAToday.com article. Beginning this fall, three dormitories on Rutgers’ campus will allow students of any identified gender to live together in gender-neutral rooms.

According to an article in the Daily Targum — Rutgers University’s student newspaper — the only concern the university expressed with the new program is that if a student moves out of his or her room, it may be more difficult to fill that space. The university needs to realize that while this could be a problem, students who switch dorm rooms is an issue in university housing regardless of the gender of the roommates. And Rutgers’ policy was created so that both students have to agree to live together in gender-neutral housing, which would decrease the instances of students moving rooms.

It’s important the University of Michigan ensures that all students feel comfortable in their housing — including students in the LGBTQ community. The University, including students and faculty, took a strong stance when former assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell accused Armstrong of promoting a "radical homosexual agenda" on his blog this fall. While support from campus was positive, the University needs to ensure that it’s not just protecting the needs of LGBTQ students after they’ve been victimized, but also working to prevent problems before they arise.

No student should be forced into a living situation that they’re uncomfortable with because of their identified gender or sexual orientation. The University has made progress in a policy for open housing for transgender students. But it needs to make sure that all students’ needs are being considered as administrators move forward with the implementation of this policy.