Students find gender-neutral housing on-campus unsatisfactory
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
When junior Nick Gottuk first heard of the university’s gender-neutral living option, he said he was excited and surprised by such a progressive initiative. However, his excitement soon diminished, he said, when he learned the details of the program.
“I wouldn’t even call it gender-neutral housing,” Gottuk said. “The university is isolating students who already feel isolated enough.”
Officially implemented in 2012, the gender-neutral program accommodates students who feel more comfortable in non-gender specific housing, director of Housing Assignment Services Linda Carey said. The program will continue next fall, and the deadline to apply begins March 15, Carey said.
The living arrangement “permits two returning upperclass students regardless of gender to live together in a single suite,” according to a form given to students inquiring about gender-neutral housing. The document states two students, regardless of gender, are authorized to live in single-style rooms connected by a bathroom in the Independence Complex of Laird Campus.
Gottuk, the trans-liaison for Haven, said this particular setup is not ideal for students who would benefit from a gender-neutral option. After writing a research paper about gender-neutral housing his freshman year, he said he learned of other universities proposing more progressive living options. Though he said the administration has the right idea, segregating the students into separate single rooms is counterproductive.
“I think the university is scared,” he said. “They want to be known for doing the program, but they don’t want to put their necks on the line.”
Gottuck said he thinks the university may be apprehensive about problems that may arise from this option, such as young couples living together. However, he said these fears are based off myth more than reality.
Sophomore Jessica Snyder, public relations director of Haven, said she agrees with Gottuck’s sentiments.
Though gender-neutral bathrooms and dorm rooms have been implemented throughout campus, Snyder said the university directs students struggling with gender identity to Haven instead of providing official resources.
“They want to look like they are LGBTQ-inclusive when they aren’t,” she Snyder said. “It doesn’t mean much when you are just sharing a bathroom.”
The university is only supportive monetarily, Snyder said, as it provides significant funds to Haven. However, Snyder said too much responsibility is given to Haven by administrators.
What the university needs is an official LGBT resource center capable of providing additional resources to students who seek gender-neutral options, Snyder said.
Colleen Dougherty, who graduated last year and is the LGBT youth mentoring manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware, was one of the students who spearheaded the gender-neutral housing initiative. Along with alumnus Dan Cole, Dougherty and other members of Haven proposed the living option to Residence Life during her junior year.
Originally, Dougherty said members of Haven pushed for a living option in which students of both genders could live together in a dorm room. Despite the program straying from Haven’s original intent, Dougherty said she is pleased with the program overall. She said she thinks the program will naturally develop into a more popular housing option.
“Gender-neutral housing is a slow-moving trend, but it’s something more and more progressive universities are adapting,” Dougherty said. “We have one, but it’s just not the same as others.”
For the first year of the program, Carey said four students chose the gender-neutral living option. In all, 10 to 12 suites throughout Laird are available, she said. If more students show interest, she said housing officials will work to accommodate them.
The university’s gender-neutral program was modeled after pilot programs of “comparable” universities, Carey said. Though she said the current set-up of two single, suite-style rooms will continue next year, the university is always open to altering the program.
“We always try to accommodate students’ needs,” Carey said. “If students are interested in changing the policy, it’s always something that can be talked about.”
Additionally, Carey said a student’s confidentiality is valued throughout the entire process and neither the parents nor the university are required to know the reasoning behind the student’s choice to live in gender-neutral housing.
Though gender-neutral housing is not listed as an option on the housing application, students can contact housing to receive more information about participating. Like all single suites on Laird Campus, this living option costs $8,788, the most expensive on-campus living choice.
This high cost could potentially deter students from applying to the program, Gottuk said. Especially in the LGBT community, students who may no longer receive financial support from their parents may have issues paying the fee, he said.
“I’ve actually seen a lot of students who identify as transgender and would benefit from the program have a lot of trouble paying,” he said.
An ideal gender-neutral housing program would include an all-inclusive community, Gottuk said. The University of Pennsylvania, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, implemented a “gender-blind” assignment in 2005. According to the article, 195 students participated in the program in 2011 compared to the four students who participated at the university this year.
Though Gottuk said the university should align its gender-neutral policy with policies at universities such as Penn, Dougherty said it will take time. It is a slow process, she said, and it may be up to 20 years before gender-housing is customary at universities.