In response to pressure from students, many universities around the country have begun assigning some housing on a gender-neutral basis for LGBT students. Some have even let any student choose to live in a co-ed room. The University maintains some gender-neutral housing for transgender students, but there hasn’t been an organized push for radical changes to the policy.
The nationwide push for a change in housing policies has come mainly from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Last month, Harvard University agreed to make gender-neutral housing available to all students who identify as transgender, similar to the University of Michigan’s policy.
Katherine Smith, a freshman at Harvard and a spokeswoman for the school’s Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Supporters Alliance, said students are now pushing for co-ed housing to be open to all students.
At the University of California at Riverside, an entire dorm is set aside for housing that is co-ed by room that includes a hall themed with LGBT programs and education.
Other schools where some form of gender-neutral housing has been instituted include Oregon State University, Swarthmore College, Sarah Lawrence College, Oberlin College, Ithaca College and the University of Colorado.
University of Pennsylvania spokesman Ron Ozio said Penn allows any student older than 18 and in at least his or her sophomore year to request gender-neutral housing with no questions asked about his or her motivation.
Out of Penn’s student body of 10,400, 127 students chose to spend this school year in such housing.
The University of Michigan does not consider a transgender student to be of another gender until he or she has completed surgery to transition to that gender.
The University addresses concerns of transgender students on a case-by-case basis, said Jacqueline Simpson, director of the University’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Affairs Office.
If students want to pursue gender-neutral housing options, they have to speak to a Housing or LGBTA staff liaison.
These students are often placed in the gender-neutral apartment-style housing on North Campus, said Simpson, who also serves as one of the staff liaisons.
However, for students who want to live on Central Campus, options are more limited. Campus-wide gender-neutral housing is difficult to accommodate because of the structural limitations of the University’s dorms, said Housing spokesman Alan Levy.
Levy said University Housing has worked to include at least one unisex bathroom in each residence hall, but it’s difficult to attach bathrooms to rooms for students who identify with non-traditional gender expressions.
Levy said North Quad, a new residence hall slated to be finished in 2010, will offer suites with attached bathrooms. But he said officials haven’t discussed offering co-ed housing where students of any gender or sexual expression may live together.
Simpson said having broader availability of gender-neutral housing would be beneficial. She said the University is trying to meet the needs of students uncomfortable in traditional residence hall settings.
“I do think that having gender-neutral housing options available campus-wide would be a good direction, so that it doesn’t necessarily designate just one area of campus that there would be gender-neutral housing options on,” said Simpson, referring to the potential of North Quad for such housing.
A student campaign would be the most effective way to encourage the University to adopt more widespread co-ed housing, Levy said.
But Simpson said she has not seen any signs of a formal student response to the current policy.
Levy said no organized student movement has approached him, either.
Nationwide, several colleges have changed their housing policies as a result of student campaigns.
LSA junior Andrew McBride, who works in the Office of LGBT Affairs, said the University needs to do more to make students in the LGBT community feel more accepted at the University.
“More gender-neutral housing and I also think just more statements in general supporting gender diversity among the student population and among staff and faculty,” he said.
“Those could be some very preliminary first steps.”