The University prides itself on its diverse student and faculty bodies, championing what officials consider a friendly and open environment for those of all backgrounds. But when students apply for housing before freshman year, there is no box for gender preference.
The housing application asks incoming freshman if they want to live in a substance-free room, whether they want a single, double or triple room and where they prefer to live on campus. But there is no option for transgender students looking for gender-neutral housing.
That may soon change.
The University is considering a proposal that was initially pitched by the Spectrum Center Student Advisory Board to create a gender-neutral housing option geared toward transgender students.
The proposal has not been significantly acted upon since it was first introduced last April, but is picking up new momentum with help from the campus undergraduate chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU board member Ellen Steele, an LSA sophomore, wrote in an e-mail interview that the group made the proposal in an effort to make University residence halls more inclusive.
“Our ultimate goal would be to make gender-neutral housing available to all students in all dorms,” Steele wrote. “Students of different genders can already live in the same hall. There is no reason they shouldn’t be able to live in the same room.”
And it appears that many universities across the country would agree.
According to the website genderblind.org, there are currently 36 colleges and universities with gender-neutral housing options, including several schools the University considers to be its peer institutions like Brown University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University and Stanford University.
University Housing Spokesman Peter Logan said he is aware that other universities offer a gender-neutral option, and that he has been in contact with officials at those schools to explore the option.
“We’re watching those schools and are in touch with them so we can see what their experiences and successes have been,” he said.
Logan said gender-neutral housing is currently available to students on an individual basis. But those students must approach the University on their own to be considered for the option.
Students must work with a staff liaison to get an accommodation that best fits their needs, but according to the University Housing website, there is no guarantee students interested in the option will receive it.
The website also states that students are assigned rooms according to their birth gender, regardless of how they identify themselves. The University will not consider accommodations for people unless they have undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Steele said the ACLU has concerns about the current housing policy, especially because, she said, it is very uncommon for college students who identify as transgender to have already undergone sex reassignment surgery. Steele said that only having the gender-neutral option for post-op students is extremely restrictive.
“This part of the policy supports the idea that a person’s body must look a certain way in order for them to be treated as the gender with which they identify,” she wrote in the e-mail.
Steele said the current housing policy is biased in its gender assumptions.
“It assumes two roommates cannot be in a relationship if they are the same gender,” she said. “It assumes women and men cannot be just friends or roommates.
“It demands that women are fundamentally different from men, and they should be segregated,” she continued. “I, and many other students, believe that the dorms should not be divided along the traditional gender binary.”
Jackie Simpson, director of the Spectrum Center, said the idea of gender-neutral housing is still in its preliminary stages and that students at the University have been pushing for gender-neutral housing for several years.
While she is hopeful, Simpson said she doesn’t know when, or even if, the proposal will be implemented at the University.
Steele said ACLU group members understand their proposal will probably not be enacted immediately, but that she hopes the University will soon take steps to implement the change in policy.
“I live in the dorms, and I believe our community could benefit from gender-neutral housing and would be strongly supportive of a change to housing policy,” she said.
Simpson said that with student interest for the option, the Spectrum Center is planning to focus more intently on bringing the option to campus.
“It would be important for us to have a conversation and a dialogue about (gender-neutral housing) campus-wide, given that students are interested in the University looking into this,” she said.
Logan said University Housing officials first need to see if the larger student population is interested in the option, but added that officials are giving it a “serious look.”