After years of debate surrounding the Open Housing Initiative, the University will begin to offer gender-neutral housing options in the dormitories fall 2013. The newly renovated East Quad Residence Hall will allow a small number of students to live in gender non-restrictive rooms as part of the Gender Inclusive Living Experience, a new living community. The University’s acceptance and implementation of this policy is a critical step in ensuring the safety and comfort of all students in the Michigan community. Moving forward, however, the University must become more expansive with their gender-neutral policies and increase the scope of the housing policy so all students have access.
Last month, The Michigan Daily reported that GILE will be based in East Quad Residence Hall. The new living community will allow students who “identity as transgender, gender non-conforming or as allies” to select a roommate of whichever gender they see fit and connect with a community of like-minded students. In order to accommodate these students, East Quad has set aside a total of 12 beds for interested students. This initiative is in response to the growing support for a petition introduced in 2008 by the Open Housing Initiative, which fought for more inclusive living options. Four years later, the University has slowly progressed toward expanding its housing policies.
The GILE community will provide a safe and accepting environment for students who do not fit the restrictive, typical gender roles. Students should be stressing about homework, not their living situation. It’s also notable that this is one of the few programs around the country that allows freshmen to participate, according to the National Student Gender Blind campaign.
In comparison to other schools across the country, however, the University has a long way to go. Wesleyan University, for example, has been accommodating its gender-neutral students since 1995. Rather than a limited number of beds — as is the case with the University’s current plan — Columbia University has standardized gender-neutral housing into its housing application process. Although moving in the right direction, the University is lagging behind both in scope and technique. Twelve beds can hardly be expected to be enough to accommodate a school of 27,000 undergraduates. And although a gender-neutral living community can offer support to those who want it, some students may prefer to not to be so visibly labeled and would rather opt for gender-neutral housing without automatically entering a living community.
Instead of limiting this to a specific community, all residence halls should be tolerant of student identity. The University of Michigan prides itself on promoting diversity within our community. In order to live up to that reputation, gender-neutral housing needs to be made available to all students.