Op-Ed: Gender Neutral Housing a Success for Student Activism

Sasha Goodfriend (CAS 2014) majors in International Relations and minors in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. When she’s not biking around Boston exploring the city, you can probably find her in the Center, draped over a couch, and trying to live up to her last name.

I felt an enormous sense of relief when I heard the news that BU decided to approve gender neutral housing on campus. It’s important for there to be an open dialogue between students and administration, and this announcement is a move to show students that BU does care about what they have to say.

The best part about the policy is that gender neutral housing is available for most dorm styles, but the fact that incoming freshmen are not allowed to apply for gender neutral housing still poses a huge problem for people who feel like a prescribed “same-sex” dormitory style would be extremely uncomfortable. Furthermore, unlike most upperclassmen, freshmen usually arrive without a community they can trust, and are even more vulnerable to an unsafe living condition. Some freshmen move off campus or switch dorms for exactly this reason.

In my experience, the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism—or as we lovingly call it, “the Center”—has been a home base for students to feel safe discussing ways they need to be supported by the university, and an effective space for negotiating change with the administration. I’m thankful that the CGSA didn’t take no for an answer when it involved students’ safety, and helped lead the campaign to bring what the administration had once thought was a minority issue to the forefront of the campus’s consciousness. In addition to circulating a petition, the CGSA became the home of a group called “Gender Neutral BU,” or GNBU, which will continue in the fall as an official student group dedicated to advocating for gender neutral facilities beyond housing, such as bathrooms. One of the main purposes of the CGSA and GNBU is to spread awareness about gender fluidity and the benefits of providing gender neutral facilities—not instead of same sex facilities, but in addition to. GNBU is comprised of students from the CGSA, student government, as well as non-affiliated individuals. It is in this diversity that their power lies.

Last spring GNBU organized a sit-in at President Brown’s office in an attempt to add a visual representation of the passion students had for the motion. Many students were nervous about participating in such a seemingly radical action, seeing as they are unheard of on campus these days. I hope President Brown’s recent announcement has given students more faith in the power of peaceful protest.

The move for gender neutral housing was an impressive show of collaboration between many departments, and between the students and the administration, especially for such a large university. We’ve seen this past year with gender neutral housing and the year before with the rape crisis center, that BU can and will respond to its students. Knowing this inspires me to think beyond the limits of the status quo, and I feel supported by a large community that cares and responds to students’ needs.

For more information about why gender neutral housing is an issue of safety for some people, visit genderneutralbu.tumblr.com

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