“I was verbally and physically harassed by my heterosexual roommate. After that, I wanted to move to a place where I felt safe, but my friends were female and I couldn’t live with them … I finally got to live with my close, best friends, but I had to do it off-campus because THERE SIMPLY WAS NO PLACE FOR ME AT BU,” said responder 889 in a survey on gender-neutral housing.
Experiences like those of responder 889 have led to the gender-neutral housing initiative that hit campus recently.
Four Student Union representatives revealed details of a five-year gender-neutral housing proposal that they anticipate will be in effect starting with the Spring 2013 registration process.
The five-year, five-step proposal includes:
- 1st year would have 20 gender-neutral rooms in Student Village, 20 gender-neutral rooms in Student Village 2 and 10 gender neutral rooms in specified apartment-style residences in South Campus.
- 2nd year would increase the amount of rooms available in Student Village, Student Village 2 and South Campus to 50, 50 and 20, respectively. Gender-neutral rooms would open in East Campus apartments and brownstones.
- 3rd year would have gender-neutral rooms in all of South Campus, Student Village, Student Village 2 and East Campus apartments.
- 4th year would expand to Myles Standish Hall, Shelton Hall and 1019 Commonwealth Avenue.
- 5th year would expand gender-neutral housing to the entire campus.
The aforementioned proposal would function under the following stipulations:
- Students would individually apply for gender-neutral housing and be required to write down the name of their desired roommate, and the desired roommate would have to respond with the same name.
- In the first year, the rooms must have a locking door within the suite, there must be at least one bathroom in the suite and the areas would be pre-determined.
- Resident Assistants would receive special training to deal with additional issues that may arise.
- Extensive, evaluative feedback would be received throughout the year.
- Rising freshman would not be able to apply initially but possibly could later on as the program ages.
After explaining the proposal details to approximately 20 people in an College of Arts and Sciences classroom, the panel revealed the results of their survey about gender-neutral housing that they conducted earlier this semester.
In it, they found that 76 percent of students would “strongly support” gender-neutral housing apartment-style residences, 72 percent would strongly support it in suite-style residences and 60 percent would strongly support it in dorm-style residences.
The results also revealed that 491 out of the 1,282 students surveyed would use gender-neutral housing. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed also said that gender neutral housing would either make them more likely to live on campus or would not affect their decision.
Panelist Ariana Katz, senior and co-director of the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, asked the audience, “How many people in this room would want to live in gender-neutral housing if it was offered?”
Nearly half of the audience raised their hands.
Shortly after, the panel opened the floor up for audience Q&A and responded to a vast array of questions and concerns.
In regards to not confining gender-neutral housing permanently to apartment-style housing, the panel explained that it shouldn’t be more expensive to feel comfortable in a living situation.
“You should be able to live with your friends,” said Seele. “No matter where you live, you should be able to live with who you feel most comfortable with.”
One popular concern was the issue of priority in the gender-neutral housing selection process.
People opting for gender-neutral housing could include members of the LGBTQ community who feel uncomfortable with a same-sex roommate, people who have more friends of a certain gender or couples who want to live together. Audience members wanted to know if that would matter in the process.
The panel had not come to an immediate conclusion, but some members did feel priority should go to those who feel unsafe or uncomfortable living with a same-sex roommate.
“We need to realize people will be grouchy about it, especially if it’s a subset of the BU population getting special accommodations,” said Katz. “But the need is so great, and I think that it will do such a service to the community as a culture and also to individuals.”
Another concern was that housing problems would arise for people in opposite-sex romantic relationships who opt to live together and experience turbulence down the road.
Katz explained that same-sex romantic relationships have been occurring under current housing parameters and also that people can “deal with it because we’re adults. We know what we’re doing. We can handle ourselves.”
“We are all adults here,” said Seele, echoing Katz’ statement. “There is a huge disservice being done to the LGBTQ community here at BU in not offering this option to them.”
To assuage concerns, the panel also mentioned that over 300 universities in the United States have gender-neutral housing. Local universities they contacted include Brandeis University, Harvard University, Northeastern University and Tufts University.
When asked by audience about what supporters can do, Seele said “talk about it. Talk about it to all of your friends.”
People interested in learning more should regularly check out buunion.org for a blog post by Seele for progress on the proposal or email D.A. Whatley, a School of Management freshman Student Union Senator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Places for people to get their voices heard at include: two more Student Union Senate meetings on April 23 and April 30 in Photonics Room 210 at 8 p.m., Advocacy Committee meetings on Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the Union Office, the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism during the week, and D.A. Watley’s office hours from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. on Tuesdays.