Gender-neutral housing becoming a greater need

William Evans

At least 54 colleges and universities across the country provide gender-neutral housing, an optional living arrangement for students who do not identify themselves as either male or female or are transitioning from one gender to the other, according to USA Today.

Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college in Iowa, began offering a gender-neutral residence hall option three years ago and added a gender-neutral locker room this year.

“It’s about an ethos,” Lily Cross, a senior who helped convince Grinnell officials to provide gender-neutral housing, according to the Des Moines Register, said. “It’s about creating a safe and welcoming space. It’s not about being able to room with your significant other.”

The National Student Genderblind Campaign calls gender-neutral housing a “rapidly growing collegiate movement,” but conservative media and colleges question that perception.

“I’ve heard of co-ed dorms, and I thought that was edgy,” Brian Kilmeade, co-host of Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” said during the Oct. 25 broadcast of the show. “Now, we’re hearing of co-ed rooms, co-ed bathrooms, co-ed showers.”

Gender-neutral housing at Grinnell grew from one percent of on-campus housing in 2008 to 2009 to 18 percent this fall, according to USA Today.

Gretchen Carlson, co-host of “Fox & Friends,” said gender-neutral housing is a movement being thrust upon the heterosexual majority by the minority transgender students at Grinnell.

“It’s another one of those stories where everything’s changing as a result of just a few people,” Carlson said.

Kilmeade said the movement for gender-neutral housing shocked him.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s in vogue – it’s like bellbottoms,” he said.

Catholic University in Washington will revert next fall to single-sex residence halls. John Garvey, the university’s president, said eliminating co-ed residence halls would reduce binge drinking and casual sex, according to USA Today.

Garvey said gender-neutral housing is a bad idea.

“I think it’s naïve to imagine that we’re doing a good thing shoving college students together,” he said in a USA Today news article.

Alicia Browne, associate director for information and communication for housing and residential communities at UA, said in an emailed statement that HRC has not received any requests for gender-neutral housing that she is aware of.

She said she is confident that single rooms and one-bedroom suites can meet the housing needs of students who do not identify with their biological sex.

“Although some campuses are beginning to offer gender-free housing assignments, by which they mean making assignments without regard to the gender of the residents, I don’t think that is an assignment policy with which most UA students would be comfortable at this time,” Browne said. “With all of our policies, we’re trying to meet the needs of a large and diverse campus, and we seek feedback from our residents through their representatives in Hall Councils and the Residence Hall Association.”

Kaylyn Johnson, political chair of the LGBTQ student organization Spectrum, said in an emailed statement that gender-neutral housing must be offered as an optional living arrangement if the University wishes to respect students’ sexual identities.

“A multiplicity of gender identities exist, and the gender binary overlooks this,” Johnson said. “Gender-neutral housing is a safe, inclusive space that is respectful of one’s gender identity and does not attempt to force a student to comply with the societal norms ascribed to their assigned sex.”