EDITORIAL: OU needs to enact gender-neutral housing
Our View: As student ramp up to fight for gender-neutral housing, make sure you understand what they’re proposing.
Since the spring 2010 semester, Students for a Democratic Society and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender student group have been campaigning for a gender-neutral housing option at OU. On March 7, the groups will take the next step and present their proposal to President David Boren in hopes he will take it to the Board of Regents meeting on March 28.
- Yes 44%
- No 56%
25 total votes.
We firmly support this campaign and have previously endorsed it. But we have never before taken the time to explain just what the gender-neutral housing proposal says.
The proposal would create a special gender-neutral housing area in each of the university housing centers. That area — a floor in the dorm towers, for example — would house students whose roommates were chosen without regard for sex or gender identity.
A student would indicate this preference on the student housing application, similar to the way a student already can choose to live on a National Merit Scholars floor or a quiet living floor. Once that choice is indicated, students have the option to name a roommate or enter the potluck process, just as they can with the current application.
A partial list of schools with gender-neutral housing & links to their programs:
From there, if students choose to go potluck, they can indicate their own gender identity, the preferred gender identity of their roommate, what pronouns they prefer to be used to refer to themselves and other important details for assessing roommate compatibility. Those factors would be taken into account when assigning living arrangements as space allows.
The most common concern about gender-neutral housing seems to be that it would increase sexual interaction among students. At least 54 colleges and universities — including all of the Ivy League universities — have adopted gender-neutral options in the last decade, and none of them has reported such an increase
It’s fairly obvious students already are finding ways to engage in sexual behavior in on-campus housing, and the current policy only sets a curfew, which does not stop sexual encounters from occurring. It is difficult to see how the addition of a gender-neutral option would encourage that behavior.
Of course, it also is difficult to see how students’ sexual choices are any concern of the university.
And in regards to concerns that couples will abuse the system to “shack up,” we have to point out that, under the current options, gay and lesbian couples are free to live together. If the administration is willing to leave that choice up to gay, lesbian and bisexual students, shouldn’t it respect straight students enough to give them the same choice?
The other major objection is that this proposal would create a kind of “ghetto” for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students. Some have argued that housing these students in one easily identified area would increase the harassment and discrimination aimed at these students, making them an easy target.
Sex - The biological and physiological characteristics that our society takes to define men and women.
Gender - The socially instituted roles, behaviours and attributes that our society considers appropriate for men and women.
Transgender - Those whose gender identities do not match their assigned genders.
Queer - Those whose gender identities, sexual orientations, sexual practices and other attributes violate existing social norms, particularly having to do with gender.
Again, there is no evidence to suggest this has happened at the 54 institutions that already have a gender-neutral policy. But even if it were to happen here, should we not give students the choice to risk that kind of targeting? Creating gender-neutral housing is one step toward creating an environment where that harassment will no longer be a threat.
If students, as adults, wish to participate in that effort while gaining a more comfortable living environment, OU should let them make that choice.
So why does OU need this policy?
University policy requires students to live in on-campus student housing for their freshman year, and Housing and Food Services offers on-campus options for upperclassmen as well. By requiring a year of residency and generally offering housing options, the university has taken on the responsibility of providing safe living environments for all its students.
In order to do that, the university must offer an option for students who feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the current sex-segregated housing system. This would be particularly helpful for GLBT students, but it also would benefit those who simply get along more easily with or feel more comfortable living with the opposite sex.
In other words, the proposal would:
• Allow students to live with students of different genders.
• Create a safe space for students not suited for sex-segregated housing.
• Give students more choices and trust them to make responsible decisions.
• Increase the safety for one of OU’s large minority groups.
• Make OU a leader among higher education institutions.
It would not:
• Necessarily increase the amount of sexual behavior among students.
• Artificially separate GLBT students from the rest of the community.
• Create environments any more unsafe or prone to irresponsible behavior than current housing.
We will be reporting on the progress of this proposal as the regents meeting draws closer. But until then, you can visit the “Gender Neutral Housing for OU” Facebook page to find out when and where you can sign the petition in support of gender-neutral housing and what else you can do to help support the proposal.