When it comes to on-campus living arrangements, University Housing is usually flexible. You can choose to room blind, substance-free and even pick the number of people you want live with. But there’s an important option missing from the checklist: You can’t pick the gender of the person with whom you’re going to live. This may change now that University Housing is finally taking a closer look at offering gender-neutral housing — a desired but unavailable option for many transgender students. To accommodate needs of every student, including those who wish to live with someone of the opposite gender for any reason, the University should offer this option on the next round of housing application surveys.
Currently, University Housing only considers the needs of transgender students if they specifically request separate housing and have had gender reassignment surgery — which is not the case for many students who identify as a gender other than their birth gender. In April, the Spectrum Center proposed changing this policy by adding a gender-neutral housing option in April. And with recent support from the University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, University Housing is giving it serious thought.
Transgender students may be a small percentage of the campus population, but that’s no excuse for making it difficult for them to find acceptable housing. Forcing these students to go beyond the housing survey to obtain a suitable living arrangement may discourage them from even trying, alienating these students from comfort in residence halls. It’s also likely that University Housing will discover a greater demand among transgender students for gender-neutral housing if it includes it in the survey. The University must accommodate for greater diversity in its housing strategy by providing its transgender students an option that fits their personal lifestyles.
But gender-neutral housing isn’t just for transgender students. Many other students may prefer this living arrangement, and they should be able to request it. The idea that unmarried men and women can’t — or shouldn’t — live together isn’t the type of thinking that residence halls should fall victim to. If a student wants to live with someone of the opposite gender, that student should be able to make that choice. And according to genderblind.org, 36 colleges across the country have already demonstrated the feasibility of allowing members of the opposite sex to live together by enacting gender-neutral housing in their residence halls.
There are some concerns that this will empower couples to live together, which could lead to messy living situations and increased domestic violence. While this concern must be treated with the utmost seriousness, University Housing could overcome it with training sessions — at orientation, for instance — that teaches students how to avoid and diffuse such confrontations. An additional concern is that the gender-neutral housing could inadvertently create a predominantly transgender hall that could be subject to stigma and persecution. But as long as the entire student community is given the option of gender-neutral housing, there will be plenty of other students entering into opposite-sex living arrangements, offsetting the stigma.
The University of Michigan thinks of itself as a progressive leader among colleges, but to live up to this label it must join the dozens of others that let students choose which gender to live with.