This week, the Residence Hall Association will be conducting a survey of current residents in order to gauge student interest in creating a gender-neutral housing option in the residence halls. I encourage all eligible residents to respond to the survey to give Housing an accurate portrayal of the community’s opinions.

Gender-neutral housing means that Housing residents would have the option to choose a roommate they would like, regardless of gender. Two people of different genders could live in the same room. Gender-neutral housing would be offered in specific areas within the residence halls, in addition to the single-sex and co-ed floors that already exist. The proposed policies aren’t meant to eliminate housing choices or force residents into housing situations, but simply allow more options for all students.

The current housing policy that restricts students to same-sex rooms is outdated. Many universities already offer gender-neutral housing options, including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and the University of Chicago. As a leading progressive public university, the University of Michigan should join these institutions in allowing gender-neutral housing.

The creation of a gender-neutral housing option is essential to assuring equality in the dorms for all people, regardless of their gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. Gender-neutral housing will benefit the entire campus community by making the dorms more inclusive. The University has already made improvements to the housing policy by offering more options to transgender students, but an openly-available gender-neutral housing option could help many LGBT students feel more comfortable in the residence halls.

By forcing men and women to live separately, the University promotes heteronormativity, or the discriminatory mindset that heterosexuality is the norm and other sexual orientations are less valid. The current housing standards don’t allow men and women to room together, therefore preventing couples from living together. However, gay and lesbian couples can share the same room. The current policy denies that men and women can live in close quarters without having a sexual relationship.

Many students of different genders choose to live together off-campus. They are aware that gender alone isn’t a good indicator of whether people will be able to live together peacefully, feel at ease around each other or address conflicts successfully. As adults, we should be able to determine the best living situation for ourselves. For many students, living with a friend of a different gender would not only be a reasonable choice, but it would also be the best decision for both parties. However, the message our same-sex roommate policy sends to those who would prefer an alternative is “pay up for a single or get out of the dorms.”

Men and women may wish to live in single-sex hallways for personal or religious reasons, and the University won’t violate their rights by randomly assigning them to a roommate of a different gender. Moreover, University Housing will continue to offer co-ed halls without gender-neutral options. Gender-neutral housing will simply be another choice available to students who specifically request it.

Gender-neutral housing would be beneficial to all students regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. It gives students the right to determine their own living situation and thereby empowers them. Gender-neutral housing could create a greater sense of community in the dorms and make University Housing more appealing to upperclassmen. The dorms should accommodate the needs and rights of all students.

Gender-neutral housing may seem like a radical shift, but it would not differ much from the co-ed floors Housing already offers. It is time for the University to offer a gender-neutral housing option to all students.

To take the survey and support gender-neutral housing, please follow instructions in the e-mail sent out yesterday by the RHA. The results will help determine how to best structure gender-neutral housing at the University.

This viewpoint was written by Ellen Steele on behalf of the Undergraduate Chapter of the ACLU.

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