Anne Marie Lagnese — Staff Writer
Southern recently adopted a new form of housing for students. Gender-neutral housing is for any student who identifies within the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning and Intersex) community.
President of Southern’s Prism Club (or Gay Straight Alliance), Kelsey Christian, supports gender-neutral housing. Christian said she thinks it is better than some of the other “alternatives” for student housing. Russ Smith of Residence Life at Southern petitioned to get the housing started, and it’s the second semester it’s been at Southern, according to Christian.
“It’s safer than having someone who identifies within the LGBT community to be in the ‘straight-line dorms,’” Christian said. “Sharing the bathrooms with a bunch of people who are the same ‘birth sex’ as you are—you [the student] will feel uncomfortable, and you couldn’t really be you in the bathrooms.”
There is currently only one room set aside at Southern; it is located in Schwartz residence hall. However, Christian said that “all the upperclassmen residence halls like Neff, Brownell, Schwartz, and the townhouses are eligible to have gender-neutral housing.”
Smith, hall director for West Campus and advisor of Southern’s Prism, and Robert Demezzo from Residence Life started gender-neutral housing.
Christian said iif a student is interested in gender-neutral housing they can’t be in straight-line dorms like Farnham Hall because each floor is just one sex. For example, the second floor in Farnham Hall is just for women and everyone on the floor shares the same bathroom.
“A situation may arise where a person who identifies as transgendered or even lesbian, gay, or bisexual may have a ‘safety risk’ using the bathrooms,” Christian said. “Also in straight-lines you’re assigned to the floor with people who are the same ‘birth sex’ as you, even if you are considered to be ‘transgendered.’”
There are also three other colleges/universities in Connecticut that offer this type of housing: Wesleyan University, UConn, and a pilot program at Yale. Some of the other colleges and universities run their gender-neutral housing programs very differently than Southern does.
Nikki Cole, a representative for UConn’s department of Residential Life, said that for “whoever is eligible to reside on-campus at UConn who indicates interest in this option, we ask students on the housing application if they’re interested in gender-free housing.”
In contrast, Southern requires a student to talk to Counseling Services. If Counseling Services approves the student, they then have to go through a few people in Residence Life to start the housing process.
“Gender-free housing [at UConn] is located in a group of rooms located near each other within Garrigus Suites on-campus,” Cole said. “These suites are comprised of two bedrooms linked together through the bathroom. Three students reside in each room and all six residents share the bathroom in the suite.”
However, this year is Southern’s first year having housing designated for LGBTQI students, or anyone who feels they need the space.
“UConn has had this type of housing since 2007-2008,” Cole said. “Department of Residential Life started this option with one suite for a group of five students who were interested in gender-free housing. This pilot was a success and we expanded our gender-free housing option.”
One of the restrictions set forth by Southern’s department of Residence Life and Counseling Services is that Southern students cannot choose who they prefer to room with if they want gender-neutral housing. All other Southern students who are not interested in this housing get to pick who they want to room with.
To contrast, “Students [at UConn] submit their interest in gender-free housing on their housing application. We’ll pull a list of continuing students who have expressed interest in this option and ask them if they have any specific roommate requests,” Cole said. “We’ll assign them in gender-free housing according to their roommate requests, and they’ll receive the assignment information in gender-free housing prior to housing selection. Students do not need to identify within the LGBTQI community to reside in gender-free housing on-campus.”
Wesleyan is also one of the few universities across the country that offers some type of gender-neutral housing.
Fran Koerting, the director of housing at Wesleyan University, said students can “choose who they would like to live with,” but it has to be on the university’s “housing preference form.”
“Students are able to choose who they want to live with regardless of gender after their first year. It is only necessary for first-year students,” Koerting said. “On the housing preference form, we explain that students will be paired with a roommate based on legal sex. If they prefer to not be paired according to this policy, all they need to do is check a box that says they are requesting an exception. Students may be placed in any of our first-year housing; we have not designated specific rooms for students who have requested gender-neutral housing.”