Poll for increased gender neutral housing met with hope & skepticism

By Nicole Mitchell

“I feel like […] Here we go again with the surveys, here we go again with the push for gender neutral housing […] People have been working towards this since I was a freshman,” said senior Jaime Gonzalez. He was referring to the latest in a series of surveys generated by Lawrence University Community Council’s Residence Life Committee meant to gauge interest in increasing gender neutral housing and bathroom options in Lawrence’s residence halls.

Currently, rooms in Hiett and Brokaw Halls, Big and Small Execs, and small houses are gender neutral. Notably, none of these residences are open to freshmen, and none offer the typical college experience of living on a co-educational floor. Sage is co-ed by floor, meaning that while roommates are all of the same gender, both men and women may occupy different rooms on the same floor. There are also a limited number of gender neutral bathrooms on campus, and even fewer of those have showers. Many of these bathrooms are also inconveniently located.

Explaining why it is important to offer more accessible gender neutral housing on campus, Gonzalez said “while the people who need [gender neutral housing] are a small demographic […] we need to work towards helping that demographic. Maybe only 20 percent of people on campus say they want gender neutral housing, but that 20 percent needs it.”

Gonzalez added that gender neutral housing is about giving people “the option to be in a space where they feel safe and comfortable.”

This sentiment was echoed by junior Allison Wray, a gender non-conforming student, who says “there is a sense of comfort in being able to have our housing, and have our housing match our identities.” Wray added “people identify how they identify and […] respecting the needs of students who identify outside the gender binary, or who don’t but for who [gender neutral housing] is a more comfortable option, is really important.”

The most recent Residence Life Committee survey, which was sent out on Friday, Oct. 9 and will be open on voyager for two weeks, is likely a sign of hope for students like Gonzalez and Wray. This survey is the culmination of a student-lead initiative for increased gender neutral housing options, and follows a much broader poll sent out in spring of 2014. Sophomore and Residence Life Committee Vice Chair Dan Thomas-Commins said the 2014 survey “pointed to a strong desire for gender neutral housing in traditional residence halls,” and explained that this most recent survey is much more focused.

Instead of informing on general feelings about gender neutral housing, it will “tell [the Residence Life Committee] how many floors to set aside as gender neutral.” He says his goal is to extend the option of gender neutral housing to incoming freshmen and other students interested in a traditional residence hall experience. Junior and Residence Life Committee Chair Malcolm Lunn-Craft says that there is a “strong possibility” of that happening next fall.