The University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to University Housing administrators this week urging them to enact the Open Housing Initiative, a proposal designed by members of the Michigan Student Assembly and other student groups that would offer students living in University residences the option of choosing a roommate of any gender.

The letter states that implementation of the initiative is “critical to ensuring equal rights for all students living in residence halls,” and that “adapting housing policy to include an open housing option is consistent with the University’s commitment to non-discrimination.”

The Washtenaw County and state of Michigan ACLU branches also expressed support for gender-neutral University housing by signing the letter.

The Open Housing Initiative submitted a report months in the making to University Housing officials last month, urging the body to offer a gender-neutral housing option starting in the fall. The day after the students submitted the proposal, Director of University Housing Linda Newman said it was unlikely the proposal would be implemented come fall.

“Typically we always do the room sign-up for returning students in late January,” Newman told the Daily at the time. “Before people sign up, we have a marketing period where we let people know what to expect, what we’re offering.”

LSA senior Mallory Jones, chair of the University’s chapter of the ACLU and a former news editor for the Daily, called the initiative a “good, progressive policy,” adding that it’s important because it would ensure that all students have equal access to University Housing.

“As the ACLU, we feel that the implementation of an open housing policy is critical to ensuring equal rights for all students living in residence halls, including transgender students,” the letter states. “The current policy denies transgender students the same amount of access to campus housing as the rest of the student body.”

LSA senior Rebecca Egler, ACLU’s representative on the Open Housing Initiative, echoed the sentiments expressed by Jones and in the letter, adding that an open housing policy would especially benefit transgender students.

“Its implementation would provide a more equitable housing system through an increase of options that are more aware of the multiplicity of student needs on this campus,” she wrote in an e-mail interview yesterday.

According to a press release issued by the University’s chapter of the ACLU, similar housing policies have been enacted at 36 other colleges and universities across the country.

The press release also stated “the University of Michigan has the opportunity to lead the Big Ten on this issue … by making the residence halls a comfortable community for all students.”

Egler wrote that so far, administrators have responded positively to the report. At this time, though, the initiative is still under consideration.

Social Work graduate student Allison Horky, a member of the Open Housing Initiative and a member of the Spectrum Center’s Student Advisory Board, said members involved in the initiative will be meeting with administrators on Monday.

“(We’ve) gotten a positive response (from administrators),” Horky said. “We’re all working together to try and figure out what other information we need, and what we can do as far as implementation.”

Jones said she and fellow members of the ACLU will continue encouraging the policy if it isn’t enacted next year.

“We’re waiting to hear what administrators say about what’s practical and for a timeline,” she said. “If (the Open Housing Initiative and University Housing) agree, logistics need to be worked out.”

Egler wrote that members of the ACLU hope to facilitate education and dialogue about the issue in upcoming months and work alongside University Housing if the proposal is enacted.

“In order to ensure a smooth transition if the policy is enacted, the ACLU and the rest of the Open Housing Initiative will work side-by-side with housing to implement these options in a way that continues to uphold the Living at Michigan Credo,” Egler wrote.

Other student groups on campus have also expressed support for the initiative. In April, the University’s Residence Halls Association passed a resolution supporting the addition of a gender-neutral housing option. In addition, the Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution in December 2009 in support of the proposal.

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