North Texas Daily

Group seeks gender-equal housing

Group seeks gender-equal housing

Group seeks gender-equal housing
January 14
13:03 2014

Brittany Villegas / Contributing Writer

Four UNT students have created an online petition that calls for the Residence Hall Association to consider offering gender-neutral housing options to students, particularly those who identify as LGBT+.

The petition asks the RHA to consider giving students, specifically gay, lesbian, transgendered and other members of the queer community, the option to opt out of having to choose traditional, gendered-restricted roommates for a more comfortable living situation, said English junior Hannah Horton, one of the four authors of the petition.

“For a lot of people, gender isn’t a defining trait,” she said. “This option would relieve the potential stresses of living with a sex that you may not identify with or feel comfortable living with. Everyone’s home should be a place to feel comfortable and be yourself in.”

According to Northeastern University’s website, gender-neutral housing is defined as a “housing option in which two or more students share a multiple-occupancy apartment or suite, in mutual agreement, regardless of the students’ sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.”

However, the goal of the petition, and possible implementation, is to have gender-neutral housing available in the current dorms at UNT without segmentation to any particular dorm or wing, said English sophomore Taylor Evans, also an author of the petition.

“It’ll be as easy as checking a box,” she said. “No money will have to be put into it other than adding it to the application process. We would like to have it implemented into the already existing dorm system into certain rooms, rather than designating a particular wing or an entire residential hall for it.”

The RHA already makes arrangements for students who require special housing, especially those who identify with the LGBT+ community, Director of Housing Elisabeth Warren said. However, with these changes, students would receive easier access and a choice on the housing application process.

Recently, the RHA reviewed the petition, along with a proposal about giving students easier access to choosing gender-neutral housing, and is debating on whether to give access to the housing for upperclassmen during a trial period next fall, Warren said.

“When it’s related to LGBT issues and the safety and security to this population, it makes sense,” she said. “I know, especially if you’re transgendered, it’s difficult to relate with one group or the other. It’s awkward, and I don’t think that people should have to deal with that, but I also don’t think that larger society should have to change everything. It’s about meeting the needs of one group, while respecting the needs of another.”

Kathleen Shattuck, president of UNT’s Glad chapter and student housing ambassador, believes that gender-neutral housing would better serve the LGBT+ community than the currently offered housing.

“The fact that the only sort of gender-neutral options are private or semi-private rooms makes it infinitely harder for students who are a part of the queer community,” she said. “Not only are those options restricted for honor students or upperclassmen, they’re a lot more expensive.”

She also considers the option safer for students who are a part of the queer community, she said.

“It is so much better to not have to worry about having to deal with issues regarding your gender or sexuality,” she said. “It’s so much nicer to not have to worry about ‘Oh, is my roommate going to be OK with this, do they secretly hate me, are they plotting something against me because they don’t accept who and what I am?’”

The petition has received no resistance so far, said undecided sophomore Atarah Fields, another petition author.

“Everyone that we’ve talked to has been receptive and curious about the idea of gender-neutral housing,” she said.

Warren believes that possible dilemmas could stem from heterosexual students who want to use the housing for reasons other than safety or comfort, she said.

“My biggest concern is that it will be open to 100 percent of the population, and I don’t think Texas is ready for that,” she said. “But in regards to LGBT, to me that’s a different population with different needs, and the safety and security thing should be factored into their housing.”

Gender-neutral housing has been successful on university campuses such as Oberlin College and Columbia University, but has stalled at others, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

According to a UNC General Alumni Association article, the option was approved by its student government, as well as the housing department and Board of Trustees, but was overturned by the Board of Governors, citing that there were more productive ways to achieve safer living situations for students than allowing men and women to live together.

The UNC campus is still fighting to raise more awareness about the issue and pushing for more gender-neutral facilities on the campus despite it being struck down.

For more information on the petition and gender-neutral housing for UNT, or to make a comment or suggestion to the authors of the petition or RHA, visit https://www.change.org/petitions/university-of-north-texas-instigate-gender-neutral-housing.

Feature photo: Gender neutral housing at UNT logo. Graphic courtesy of Students for UNT gender neutral housing 

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