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Gender Neutral Housing: A Quiet Revolution

Gender Neutral Housing: A Quiet Revolution

This January, Ohio University (OU) witnessed a minor housing revolution when the administration approved a policy to allow students of different genders to share the same living space. But if that shakeup passed you by unnoticed—you’re not the only one. The new policy ruffled few feathers, either in the University community or beyond its borders.

The OU policy is part of a quiet movement that has taken hold at universities across the United States for “gender-neutral” housing, a catchall term for policies that allow students of different genders to share campus living accommodations.

In place at more than 50 universities nationwide, gender-neutral housing policies run a wide spectrum, from Yale, where seniors of different sexes can share suites—but not bedrooms—in certain dormitories, to Hampshire College, which since 1970 has allowed every student to choose roommates regardless of gender. But all of these policies all share a common trait: They give adult students the right to decide who they feel most safe and comfortable sharing their living space with.

In the mixed-up history of American higher education, that’s a pretty radical idea, but the spread of gender-neutral housing on campuses nationwide has happened nearly silently. This fall alone, ColumbiaGeorge WashingtonEmoryOhio University, and Beloit College have approved some form of opposite-sex roommate pairings. And though some people might get squeamish at the idea, the process at most of those schools was startling drama free. Students made a proposal, the administration accepted, and the university rolled out a pilot program.

“It is our hope that this … program will broaden students’ choices and help ensure living arrangements that are welcoming and inclusive for all members of our community,” two Columbia University deans told their student newspaper in November.

Such an accepting attitude reveals gender-neutral housing for what it really is: Not a big deal. But that’s why it’s all the more startling to see the gap that is opening up between schools where students can choose the sex of their roommate and those where they still can’t. Away from the coasts and elite private institutions, gender-neutral housing remains a rare exception [PDF], meaning that the vast majority of American college students who live on their campus are still hemmed in by an antiquated sex-segregated system.

As long as the ability to determine the sex of your roommate remains a privilege afforded only to a few, only that minority will reap the benefits of the more open and safe living space that gender neutral housing enables. And in a country where class, race and geography already play a tremendous role in determining who is able to pursue a college degree, the last thing the system of higher education needs to be doing is creating more social divides.

This post originally appeared on Campus Progress.

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Photo credit: Jeff.Dlouhy via flickr
By Ryan Brown at Campus Progress.

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12:17PM PST on Feb 16, 2011


5:48PM PST on Feb 12, 2011

Hi All! Quit being ageists, you labelers!If they are in college, it doesn't matter how old they are! People who put labels on age are idiots. Age is only a number, so quit segregating! If you can be emancipated at a certain age, then you can vote and other things. By the way, here is something others might be interested in:

12:11AM PST on Feb 9, 2011

As long as it is free choice and not imposed on the students -- but the substance use/abuse issues and possible rape issues are real. Keeping genders in separate rooms, on separate floors or separate buildings still might be a better idea. College students may be technically "adults" but few students living in dorms are "independent" adults and act like irresponsible kids. Party, party, party... Should the colleges set up situations for more mayhem?

11:52AM PST on Feb 8, 2011

Good idea, allowing the adult students to decide.

10:45PM PST on Feb 6, 2011

When you are not footing the bill for the tuition, then the student is an adult and can freely choose with whom they wish to share rooms. While parents are still footing the bill, those students are still kids, and should not have total choice.

12:30PM PST on Feb 6, 2011

As long as you have a choice and it doesn't become a case where you have to room with a member of the opposite sex regardless of personal choice, it should be ok. But let's not forget the statistics of date rape on campus and how that could rear it's ugly head in gender neutral rooming. Alcohol and college go hand in hand and some people obviously make bad decisions when intoxicated.

10:55PM PST on Feb 5, 2011

It's time to stop dictating morals (i.e., mixed or non-mixed housing) to adults, and I personally consider college/university-age students to be adult.

8:32PM PST on Feb 5, 2011

Well... about time!

3:51PM PST on Feb 5, 2011

an interesting idea.

1:31PM PST on Feb 5, 2011

Thank you for the article Laura B and Ryan Brown. Times have changed, and yes I think the quieter this kept the better. Who knows this may somewhat stop the wild parties we were always hearing about. I also feel that this will bring mutual respect.

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