Gender-neutral proposal softened

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February 16, 2010

2:02 AM

Attempts by the College of William and Mary Student Assembly to allow gender-neutral housing have been met by resistance from the administration. As a result, the SA is taking smaller steps such as streamlining the application process for students with special needs.

The SA’s initial proposal was an effort to initiate gender-neutral housing at the College. It suggested setting aside several Ludwell apartment units for a voluntary program through which students could cohabitate regardless of gender, sexual orientation or relationship status.

The proposal also sought to address married students, who had been provided with special accommodations prior to this year.

SA Secretary of Diversity Initiatives Koji Ukai ’10 initiated the proposal last semester.

“The proposal met strong support from areas such as the Student Assembly senate, who unanimously passed a bill in support of the proposal, the Residence Hall Association and the Center for Student Diversity,” he said.

Despite support from student organizations, the College’s administration was hesitant.

“We also encountered legitimate concerns about both the practicability and political implications of such a significant change in housing policy from the Office of Resident Life and the Office of the President,” Ukai said.

ResLife Director Deb Boykin was one College administrator who voiced concern.

“I want to support what students want,” she said. “But putting men and women in the same room … that’s just something that at this point we’re not going to do.”

After receiving feedback from the administration, as well as from individual students and student organizations, the proposal was revised over winter break to no longer call for mixed-sex rooms. Instead, it now attempts to simplify the process by which the College can meet the requests of students with special needs, such as transgendered students.

“The current housing policy does a tremendous job at personally accommodating students with special needs on a case-by case basis,” Ukai said. “However, the current system only clearly outlines this process for students with disabilities, forcing students with other special housing needs to navigate a difficult process of talking to at least four administrators and faculty [members].”

The new policy would allow the Center for Student Diversity to advocate on the students’ behalves, simplifying the currently lengthy and complicated housing selection process.

Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 says the administration strongly supports this change.

“The first step in the proposal … is one we support wholeheartedly,” Ambler said in a written response to the SA’s proposal. “Moreover, with the Center for Student Diversity now in its first year with a new, expanded mission, there is even greater potential for reaching out to students who may have special housing needs not included in the [Americans with Disabilities Act] list of disabilities.”

The second step in the proposal attempts to improve the living conditions for these students by providing them with the option of a “mixed-sex, on-campus apartment,” in which men and women would still reside in same-sex rooms but would be permitted to occupy the same unit.

According to Ambler, this change has not been as readily accepted by the administration.

“Given the range of housing options now available at William and Mary, the willingness of our staff to work with students individually to meet their needs, and the level of self-determination that our upper-class students already enjoy, both on campus and off, we believe that the College is adequately dealing with housing right now,” Ambler said.

The policy would require a student to identify themselves as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“There’s no possible way to let people not come out [and still take advantage of the bill],” Ukai said.

Ambler did not rule out future changes to the current policy, but does not foresee any occurring in the immediate future.

“We do understand that a few private schools have plans to allow males and females to share living quarters,” she said. “We may be able to learn from their experience. As far as colleges and universities in Virginia are concerned, both public and private, none has so far found that offering gender neutral-housing is what it ought to do.”

Ukai said that the current changes to the proposal do not accomplish as much as the SA originally set out to do.

“[The proposal] will not meet any of the calls made by the Student Assembly senate for greater self-determination for the general student body,” said Ukai.

He also said he believes the proposal takes “small steps” toward the ultimate goal of a gender-neutral housing option.

Lambda Alliance Co-president Cassie Cole ’12 says she supports for a gender-blind housing option.

“I am 100 percent in favor of a gender-blind housing option for two reasons,” Cole said. “First, it is unfair and really unnecessary to force students to room with people of the same sex … It doesn’t serve the needs of the sexual and gender minority students. Second, it violates the idea of self-determination that the administration claims to value so highly.”

The SA plans to submit the final draft of its proposal by the end of this week.

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