Have you ever wanted to room with a best friend of the opposite sex? Freshman Rachel Berkley does.“Students should be allowed to room with whomever they’re comfortable, regardless of gender,” Berkley says.
When confronted with this option, most students would predict the problems associated with couples rooming together, then breaking up mid-year. According to Berkley, this is a heterosexist view because it assumes that all people living together now are heterosexual.
Assistant Dean for Residence Life Amy Uecke says that assessment doesn’t really apply since the university doesn’t concern itself with a student’s sexual orientation.
“We don’t ask those kinds of questions,” Uecke says.
Berkley counters, “I could go out into the real world and get an apartment with someone of the opposite gender if I wanted to.” She added that students “should be able to do [here at Lawrence] whatever you can do in the real world, in a safer, more controlled environment.”
Uecke disagrees, stating that residential life at Lawrence is geared to further the liberal arts “mission” of the university. Uecke also states that by maintaining a residential campus wherein all majors and classes are mixed, the liberal arts philosophy is furthered.
“I don’t know if [a safe and controlled microcosm of real life] is the number one goal of the university,” Uecke said. “As part of our residential mission, ‘real life’ is not necessarily our duty.”
In the U.S. News and World Report’s list of the top 50 liberal arts colleges in America (on which Lawrence ranks 48), five colleges, including the top two, allow cohabitation. This includes colleges like Amherst, Haverford, and Wesleyan.
“We have our own sort of community…we’re creating an environment that’s accepted by the students, trustees, other Lawrence community members, and even the Appleton community,” said Uecke. “People select this school for its environment.”
Berkley has spent the last several weeks gathering student signatures in support of her cause, though her efforts aren’t limited to a petition. She’s also drafting a proposal that would change the current Lawrence policies on cohabitation.
Currently, the LU student handbook states, “Students of the opposite sex will not be assigned a room together, nor will they be permitted to live in a room together.”
The proposal Berkley is writing would allow mixed-gender groups of four or more students to live in the same room. In compliance with Wisconsin state law, this would only apply to rooms on floors that have bathrooms for both genders.
This currently applies to ten rooms on campus; however, eight rooms on each floor of the new residence hall will also meet these requirements.
According to Berkley, this plan is almost identical to the policy in place at Harverford College.
Any change in Lawrence’s cohabitation policy would come from the residential life committee, if not a trustee vote, making this is a daunting task for Berkley.
Her first step, once her bill is finished, will be to present it to LUCC for support. Though the council lacks the jurisdiction to alter the cohabitation policy, it could pass a resolution declaring support for the bill.
This recommendation, along with Berkley’s collection of over 250 student signatures, should be enough to catch the administration’s ear.
“If I can get the show that the student government is behind the proposal, it will help me,” Berkley says.
Uecke agrees: “Lawrence is unique in that students have a lot of say in housing policies, so addressing the cohabitation policies is a logical progression.”
Berkley is confident in her proposal’s potential for success: “It’s going to happen eventually. It’s just a matter of whether Lawrence is going to be a leader or follow the lead of other schools.”