MU student organization pushing for gender-neutral housing

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 | 5:03 p.m. CDT; updated 11:06 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 20, 2011

COLUMBIA — A student resolution passed early last week could lay the groundwork for major changes in MU's student housing policy.

The Residence Halls Association passed a resolution requesting the department of residential life to begin offering gender-neutral housing by 2012.

Gender-neutral housing would allow students not of the same sex to live with each other in the residence halls.

The department of residential life must approve the association's resolution before it takes effect.

Frankie Minor, residential life director, declined to comment on the student resolution, choosing to wait until further information on the issue could be gathered.

Taylor Dukes, the association's director of service and sustainability, said the goal of gender-neutral housing on campus is to create a more inclusive environment in the residence halls. She said the housing option would be open for everyone, not just the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

"It could be for fraternal twins that are boy and girl who want to live together or best friends from high school," she said.

Dukes said that this option is important for the LGBTQ community, however, primarily because of the comfort level of its members. Students might find themselves in situations where discrimination could be an issue, Dukes said.

"If you're not sure whether or not your future roommate will be comfortable living with someone who is LGBTQ, ... it could be a daunting experience," she said.

Major universities across the nation are considering this new housing arrangement, including Columbia University, which will run a pilot program during the 2011-12 academic year to give upperclass students the opportunity to live with members of the opposite sex.

Emory University, in Atlanta will offer a similar pilot program this fall, giving approximately 120 students the chance to room with a person of any sex or gender.

Schools such as George Washington University, Ohio University and SUNY Stony Brook have also began similar programs. Washington University in St. Louis recently implemented a gender-neutral housing option.

Jeffrey Chang, co-founder and associate director of The National Student Genderblind Campaign, said offering gender neutral housing is the next step in the evolution of student housing.

"Gender-neutral housing provides students with the ability to decide who they feel  most comfortable living with, regardless of gender," Chang said. "For LGBT students, being forced to live with a roommate of the same sex can be uncomfortable and even dangerous."

Chang also said for transgender students, in particular, being able to choose a roommate that matches their gender identity can be extremely important.

Dukes said the university is becoming more accepting of the diversity issues on campus, but she said some issues, such as the concerns of the LGBTQ community, might not be as prevalent.

"The reason we as a student government are doing this is to bring this to the attention of the university," Dukes said. "Not only could this be a proactive step for Mizzou but a progressive action in general."

Dukes said the process for selecting gender-neutral housing could be similar to checking existing boxes on a housing form, such as the box stating whether a student wants to live in a smoking environment. But in this case, the box would be for gender-neutral housing.

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