Promoting equality in housing

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November 5, 2010

12:32 AM

Roommates ride the rollercoaster of college with us — they experience the good, the bad and the ugly. In those moments of joy, they participate in the celebration. In those late-night meltdowns, they’re a comforting presence. In the end, roommates should feel most comfortable with each other, no matter their genders.

I am disappointed by the College of William and Mary’s postponing a decision on gender-neutral housing. Gender-neutral housing is an opportunity for all students to choose a roommate with whom they share a comfortable bond, regardless of gender. For students of the LGBT community, especially, gender-neutral housing would be a major step toward recognizing and accommodating the LGBT community on campus.

About 50 colleges and universities have implemented gender-neutral housing within the past few years. Many offer an “opt-in” program, which allows students who feel comfortable with mixed gender housing to join, rather than automatically placing all students in the pool for mixed gender housing.

When the Gender-Neutral Housing Option Support Act was met with opposition by the administration last spring, the College ignored the opportunity to assume a progressive stance toward the changing ideas of students. Recognizing the issue and working closely with the students would, at the very least, allow for understanding on both sides. Putting the whole issue aside seems to further divide the administration from the students, and although gender-neutral housing may not be an issue of great emergency, it represents the disconnect between the administration and the student body.

Opposition to the gender-neutral housing option argues that it creates a potentially risky environment, yet none of the colleges which have implemented the policy report an increase in domestic violence. In fact, many of the colleges have discouraged couples from rooming together and often limit students to mixed-gender suites only. Gender-neutral housing isn’t an outlet for couples to room together, but rather an opportunity for compatible individuals to share a room or suite — and thus feel most comfortable in their environment.

A controversial program always brings the fear of ramifications. For the college, a decrease in the amount of donations could be stirred by the program, but pursuing any progressive policy always creates that possibility. If it’s an issue that the students recognize as important to their community, then it must be worth the potential disapproval to at least reach a reasonable compromise with the students.

In the proposal of the Gender-Neutral Housing Option Support Act, the Ludwell Apartments were considered as a potential location for implementation. Utilizing Ludwell for a pilot program would allow the program to grow without infringing on students who don’t decide to “opt-in,” and would allow students to express their support while retaining the ability to take a comprehensive and non-committal look at the benefits and drawbacks of the test case.

Gender-neutral housing isn’t intended to be a rallying cry for reform of the whole housing system, or an attempt to isolate students who prefer the traditional housing arrangement, but rather a request for another option. Self-determination is one of the finer aspects of college, and to allow students to choose the gender of their roommates or suitemates would show the best of the honor code in which the College takes pride — trust.

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