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Columbia University considers 'gender-neutral' housing
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Columbia University considers 'gender-neutral' housing

by James Whitely - SGN Contributing Writer

Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York, may become the first Ivy League college to allow co-ed rooming, which would allow students of opposite sexes to live together on campus.

The idea of gender-neutral housing is poised to upset many parents who consider sharing a room to mean sharing a bed, however advocates say that allowing heterosexual couples to live together is not the primary motive for pushing for gender-neutral housing.

According to Jeffrey Chang, co-founder of The National Student Genderblind Campaign, a grassroots organization which helps students and college administrators develop gender-neutral housing policies, schools that have adapted gender-neutral policies have not seen many couples using the programs to move in together. At universities that offer the option, usually less than one percent of students choose it, said Chang.

"It's not intended to be a couples' housing proposal," said Sarah Weiss, a student at Columbia University and a student government member who voted for the proposal. "It's really a proposal for students who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender to have the opportunity to live with a roommate they feel comfortable with."

The reasoning for the proposal is that students should have the opportunity to live with whomever they feel most comfortable with, regardless of gender, said Weiss. LGBT students often feel safer living with someone of the opposite sex.

Most colleges today include gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination policies, yet some argue that housing options don't reflect this.

Columbia students are arguing that many students may feel uncomfortable sharing a room with members of their same birth-assigned gender, because they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual, don't identify with their own birth-assigned gender, or for any other reason.

If the proposal is approved by administrators, Columbia University will become one of the estimated 30 universities and colleges in the United States that offer gender-neutral housing, according to Chang. "We have seen this tremendous increase among college institutions in the past two to three years moving toward gender-neutral housing," Chang said.

Around the country, there is still a large opposition to gender-neutral housing.

"Our culture here is such that it still lends itself that people prefer single-sex housing," said Danny Armitage, assistant vice president for campus services at the University of Memphis.

Armitage said that the University of Memphis surveys its students every three to four years about housing issues and has found that students, especially females, simply feel more comfortable and safe in a single-sex environment because they have more privacy.

Although Columbia University may become the first Ivy League school to allow co-ed rooming, it has not been the first Ivy League battleground for it.

In early March of this year, Yale University administrators backed down from a plan to implement gender-neutral housing. In retaliation, over a dozen students staged an outdoor "sleep-in" during freezing weather. The Yale students set up tents in the snow and ice of Yale University's cross-campus quad. Students posted signs near their tents that read, "The Only Gender-Neutral Housing at Yale."

The demonstration was led by a coalition of students called "Students for Housing Equality at Yale."

In an interview with the Yale Daily News, student Rachel Schiff said, "The sleep-in is meant to protest the type of metaphorical displacement [that the] LGBT community and allies are faced by this decision."

"Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, straight students alike will benefit from gender-neutral housing. It's about being able to choose a living situation that is most comfortable for you, whatever your reasoning may be. It's as simple as that," said John Yi, a Yale student.

"I think it might be enlightening for our administrators if we brought in a medical professional to explain about cooties not being real," said Dan Hansen, another Yale student.

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