Gender-neutral housing at LU

Nora Hertel

Lawrence’s Residence Life Committee recently voted to include gender neutral housing options for the 2006-2007 academic year. The committee met Tuesday to discuss results from the Voyager survey on the issue and to vote on gender-neutral housing options for next year.
Gender-neutral housing refers to student residences, bedrooms and bathrooms that are not designated to either sex. Male, female or transgender students may choose to live together in any combination within designated residences, and bathrooms in such residences are to be open to all.
The committee decided that there will indeed be gender neutral housing options for next year. The third and fourth floors of Hiett Hall, the Large Exec house and half of the small houses will be gender-neutral. In theme and formal group houses, the group that inhabits the house will decide if it is gender-neutral or not.
The Residence Life Committee drew from the Voyager survey when they made the final decision about gender-neutral housing. Approximately 400 students responded to the survey, and the majority was in favor of gender-neutral options.
Hiett and Large Exec are ideal for this arrangement because each room has its own bathroom. Residence halls with communal bathrooms are more likely to have an issue with gender neutrality. Many gender-segregated options remain for students who are not comfortable with gender-neutral residences.
In the last few years, gender-neutral housing has extended to universities and colleges throughout the country and at liberal institutions in particular. There has not been much resistance to these changes, but Lawrence is conscious of possible opposition.
Gender-neutral residences may affect the way Lawrence is viewed by parents of perspective students. Sara Bernstein, president of Lawrence’s Gay, Lesbian, Other or Whatever group argued against this claim, saying, “Many other universities already have [gender-neutral housing], and it has not adversely affected them.”
Gaby Szteinberg, chair of the Residence Life Committee, noted another apprehension. Gender-neutral housing makes it possible for heterosexual couples to live together. Bernstein countered this argument by pointing out that homosexual couples have always had the option of rooming together under sex-segregated housing. Szteinberg said she hopes that romance does not become a complicating issue in these new housing arrangements.
Beyond Lawrence, there is some large-scale opposition to gender-neutrality. USA Today featured an article about gender-neutral housing in June 2004. The article quoted Young America’s Foundation, a large campus outreach of the conservative movement, condemning a gender-neutral hall as the “most shameful campus event” at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
Szteinberg said she is quite enthused about the committee’s decision and said, “I like that we’re trying this. We’re not going all the way, but we’ll see how it works out.” She explained that the final decision was based on the Voyager survey with support from LUCC representatives from each residence hall and approval from the admissions office.
GLOW has been advocating gender-neutral housing at Lawrence for three years, and the movement has gained support from friends of the organization and a handful of other interested students. Gender-neutral housing is a huge step for gender equity, and Szteinberg seemed very pleased to highlight and accept some of the diversity on the Lawrence campus.