Gender-neutral housing a possibility at MU, but no plans set

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 1:11 p.m. CDT; updated 6:23 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 26, 2013
Virgina Avenue South Housing is scheduled to open fall 2015. The residence hall is being built with “gender-flexible” bathrooms, in which the showers and toilets have complete privacy. This means the building could potentially house any combination of men and women. If MU decides to implement gender-neutral housing, this would be the likely site.

COLUMBIA — MU may join the ranks of Columbia, Brown and Boston universities if the MU Office of Residential Life allows gender-neutral housing in future residence halls.

MU is among a large group of Midwestern public universities without housing to serve transgender, gender-nonconforming or coupled students. The university has been talking about adding this housing option for a couple of years.

Frankie Minor, director of MU Residential Life, said those discussions continue, although there are no set plans at this time.

One of the biggest obstacles facing this program is sheer demand for housing in general, Minor said. In previous years, housing has been stretched thin for incoming freshmen. Last year, there were no vacant women's rooms during the fall semester.

But freshman enrollment declined this year. That makes the possibility of creating housing programs to cater to more individual interests more plausible.

Struby Struble, coordinator of the LGBTQ Resource Center, said the center and Residential Life have been in contact about the potential of such a residence hall. However, the center is not campaigning for it directly.

"I think we are constantly advocating for it so we don't plan to have any particular marketing campaigns," Struble said. "There are always conversations taking place about how to continue to make our university great."

Other questions linger, though, including defining what gender-neutral housing would mean at MU.

"Is it for students who are transgender or gender-nonconforming? Or would we say that a brother and sister could live together?" Minor said.

Virginia Avenue South, which is scheduled to open in 2015 on the southeast corner of campus, will have the capability to house any mix of men and women because it will have bathrooms that Minor called "gender-flexible." That means toilets and showers have complete privacy, making it possible for men and women to use the same facilities. This is not an option in any other current residence hall at MU.

Minor said he is not sure when the decision will be made about whether to have gender-neutral housing on campus.

In general, choices about residence hall programming, such as Freshman Interest Groups or Learning Communities, are decided roughly 10 months prior to move-in day based on student interest from the year prior. If this is true for Virginia Avenue South, a decision based on its programming could be reached as early as fall 2014.

In even having this discussion seriously, MU is following a larger trend. Campus housing experts Brian Willoughby, Jeffrey Larsen and Jason Caroll wrote in "The Emergence of Gender-Neutral Housing on American University's Campuses" that more and more colleges are exploring gender neutral housing.

"Discussion currently taking place at universities revealed what is likely an upcoming wave of transition in the college housing landscape," they wrote in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research. 

In fact, 16 of the 100 largest American universities, surveyed in the article's study, offer gender-neutral housing programs on their campuses. Most direct their programming toward the LGBTQ community with certain provisions to remove any potential romantic relationships from the program, according to the article.

Struble said she hopes this change will come to MU to educate all students, not just members of the LGBTQ community.

"It is an excellent type of learning opportunity for gender relationships and not just trans (transgender) students," Struble said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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Skip Yates September 11, 2013 | 4:26 p.m.

I'd guess that no one will realize that 16 of 100 of those universities are well, just stupid!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 12, 2013 | 6:37 a.m.

@ Skip Yates:

I wanted to comment on the concept, and have now gone through three drafts without success.

The problem is that I cannot accurately express my opinion without violating the posted rules governing comments. When I say "violate," my considered opinion on this subject wouldn't just violate those rules, it would shatter them into small pieces.

I hope UMKC, UMSL and MS&T won't follow suit. (There have previously been situations where some of them haven't.) There are pockets of sanity in UM System.

After having lived the greatest part of my adult life in Missouri I moved to another state a year ago. I am happy to no longer pay Missouri sales or income tax and thus not be forced to support this nonsense.

(Report Comment)

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