Whenever I mention that I lived in gender-inclusive housing during my sophomore year at George Washington University, I hear a lot of different reactions. Some people laugh and make a fun sexist comment like, “I could never live with girls, they’re too passive-aggressive about stuff” or “You lived with guys? I bet they loved having a clean dorm for once.” Others ask me if I hooked up with any of my roommates and whether it was awkward afterwards (No. What? Just no.).
And my mother, when I first announced the plan (I didn’t exactly consult her on the decision until it was a done deal), gave me about two minutes of pondering silence before she said, “Well, okay. I hope that works out.”
But more often than not, I only get the eyebrows-slightly-raised, mouth-slightly-turned-down, head-slightly-nodding combo, like I just told them a fun fact about guinea pigs. It’s interesting, but it’s not an earth-shattering revelation. That’s because lately more and more universities are incorporating gender-inclusive housing options into their campuses, and what do you know? Students are being pretty cool about it.
GW’s gender-inclusive housing program was first announced in 2010 after a year of combined advocacy from campus organizations including Allied in Pride, the Residence Hall Association and the Student Association. The program is only 6 years old now, but today GWU is one of 200 universities nationwide that offers similar options for students.
The reasoning is simple: Gender fluid, transgender, nonbinary and queer students are requesting a more welcoming and comfortable environment for their college experience.
“The program started off with students saying, ‘Hey we really should have this option on campus,’” Assistant Director of the LGBT Resource Center for the University of North Florida Kaitlin Legg said. “They’d heard about it happening elsewhere, were transitioning themselves or were allies and felt that the housing process could be stressful, especially because legal gender status might not reflect how they present in day-to-day life.”
Legg is a key advocate of UNF’s four-year-old gender-inclusive housing program. “We’ve been advocating for it since 2008, so we saw that this was a need early-on.”
So why doesn’t every college and university offer this? Well, just click over to GW’s webpage on gender neutral housing and the main argument is front and center: “This program is intended for students who wish to share a room or apartment with friends of a different gender. As with any on-campus housing option, it is not intended for romantic couples.”
The main worry appears to be that students will use this housing option to move in with their significant other or to meet potential hookups. Some universities address this issue in different ways. UNF, for example, requires that students fill out a brief application in order to opt for their gender inclusive housing program.
“We ask the questions just to see if the person wants to be a part of this very intentionally gender-diverse community… or if they’re just wanting to meet co-eds like it’s spring break,” Legg said.
Not surprisingly, my gender neutral housing experience was the opposite of spring break, i.e. chill. Everyone took turns taking out the trash, cooking dinner and checking in on each other every now and then. One night when I felt nervous about a job interview I had the next day, the guys took turns reading from Dr. Seuss books to make me smile.
Gender inclusive housing not only provides a better living experience for students who might not identify or present according to their legal gender status, but also promotes more open-minded learning environments and a bigger variety of housing options.
It’s almost as if college students are adults and know what they need from their living environment… or something.