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November 6, 2010 1:22 am

Gender-Neutral Housing One More Step To Becoming a Reality

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As part of her platform last year, Student Government Association (SGA) President Marlena Weiss campaigned for gender neutral housing on campus. The plan is currently in the works, according to Assistant Director of Residence Life Kelly Smolinsky.

Under the proposal, gender-neutral housing would be available to students living in North Campus. Students would apply for housing in the same process as they do now, the only difference being that students of opposite genders would be allowed to share bedrooms.

Gender neutral housing would not be restricted to a certain area designated for the purpose; for example, a building in Warring Commons would not be specifically gender neutral.

Additionally, because the proposal would only affect North Campus housing, in theory only upperclassman would be eligible for that option. First years are less likely to request a roommate entering college, because they don’t know many other people; in the event that they do, the likelihood that they’d live on North Campus is low.

Furthermore, although gender-neutral housing requests would be evaluated on a case by case basis, Weiss believes that the option is “a little too much” for a first-year in college.

A large concern regarding the effectiveness of gender neutral housing has been regarding couples living together. Senior Ally Moore believes that this is flaw in the plan.

“[Gender-neutral housing] is a terrible idea. I honestly think it’s going to lead to a lot of couples together,” which she thinks poses a real problem. To be fair, she says, “I also think same-sex couples shouldn’t live together.”

Though concerns have been raised over whether or not couples would be permitted to room together, Smolinsky said there’s nothing to say they would be restricted in the proposed plan.

“We would not be ‘policing’ couples living together. That’s not really our business. Same-sex couples live together now and if it becomes a roommate problem, we deal with it just like any other roommate problem,” Smolinsky said.

Weiss agreed adding, “If a couple wants to live together they’re going to find a way to live together.” Weiss also said she believes restrictions should not be applied “because it makes the process more open.”

Senior Mary Walters agreed, and said, “I think we should have a right to [gender neutral housing]. I just think that [couples] would end up wanting to kill each other. But I think as adults…we have a right to request to live with anybody we want.”

Although couples would not be restricted, Residence Life would sit down with anyone who chooses gender neutral housing and “have a discussion to make sure they’ve thought things all the way through.”

In theory, although the details have not been worked out entirely, the discussion would relate to issues roommates might not consider. Couples, Weiss says, would discuss challenges relating to space while friends might deal with shower, changing, and other privacy issues.

Additionally, Smolinsky believes a roommate or suitemate agreement would probably be beneficial to the discussion and final decision.

Currently, SGA has already passed a resolution supporting the plan, and Weiss has been attempting to gauge student feedback. She believes that most students are in favor of the plan, and said initial concerns regarded restrictions on couples and general questions about how housing would work.

Weiss believes that some students perceive this as an important step in increasing tolerance. “For students who don’t identify as straight or with the gender they’re born with, it gives them more options and puts them in less awkward situations,” Weiss explains.

Weiss is unsure of parental reception of the plan. She said, “Most people think it could sound intimidating to parents because they automatically go to the couples scenario.”

However, since the college already allows mixed-gender suites, the policy is already relaxed, and Weiss said that if couples wanted to live together they already have the option. Although parents’ concerns and opinions are important to Weiss, she added “it’s also a personal opinion between parents and children at St. Mary’s.”

According to Smolinsky and Weiss, a formal proposal is in the process of being written and will be taken to the President’s Council. From there, the plan may have to be approved by the Board of Trustees, but as of now, Smolinsky is unsure of what will be required.

Ideally, Weiss hopes that gender neutral housing will be in effect for the fall of 2011, but the timeline will depend on how the proposal is received and what, if anything, needs to be modified. A more realistic goal, she believes, is the spring of 2012, because of the difficulties of planning housing next semester.

Student feedback is the most important part of the process, Weiss said. She requests that any concerns, comments, or questions be emailed to her at mjweiss@smcm.edu.

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