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Shackin' up

Colorado College joins the latest trend: gender-neutral housing


As the resident advisor for its gender-neutral hall, junior - Abby Stott is glad to help CC move away from the gender - binary. - INDEPENDENT STAFF
  • Independent staff
  • As the resident advisor for its gender-neutral hall, junior Abby Stott is glad to help CC move away from the gender binary.

Last year, Colorado College junior Abby Stott wanted to live on campus with a male friend. When she asked if it was possible, she was turned down flat.

This year, Stott is the resident advisor to CC's new gender-neutral hall, designed to accommodate students who don't want their sex to be a consideration in determining who they live with.

The liberal arts college is one of a small but growing number of schools nationwide that have adopted such on-campus housing programs.

Laura Bennett, CC's assistant director of residential life, says the living situation is ideal for transgendered students who don't wish to declare their gender, or for other students who feel more comfortable with a roommate of the opposite sex.

"We're not using the program for boyfriend and girlfriend who want to live together," Bennett says. "It's fine if they want to do that, but they also need to be supportive of what the community stands for and what the values are in the community."

All the hall residents will be required to participate in various gender-awareness programs.

So far, five of the six slots available in the program have been filled.

"I like the idea of moving away from the gender binary," says Stott, who is biologically female but identifies herself as androgynous. "Not many people fit into the gender binary and what society expects of our gender."

Becoming targets A similar gender-neutral housing program was adopted by Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and director of media relations David Pesci says it was "thoroughly embraced by the university community."

The program drew 10 students in its inaugural year and roughly the same number for the upcoming school year.

Although the program initially grouped students in one hallway, Wesleyan officials decided to disperse them throughout different halls to avoid segregation. This also was a consideration at CC, but ultimately, college officials in the Springs decided to keep students in one hallway in order to evaluate the success of the pilot program.

"I was concerned about the students being targeted because they are living in a specific space," Bennett says. "I don't want people to think, 'Oh, so-and-so lives there, they must be transgendered,' because that's not the case."

Overall, CC and Wesleyan officials agree that the new living accommodations will make students feel more comfortable and safe.

"In sort of a more global sense, it draws attention to the issue of transgenders, and we'll be providing more education," Bennett says. "More people will become aware of what the students may be going through."

Not everyone, however, has embraced the idea.

FrontPage Magazine, a neo-conservative online journal edited by David Horowitz, called the creation of Wesleyan's gender-neutral hall one of "the most shameful campus events in America's educational system."

Not in the near future Other universities are reluctant to consider gender-neutral housing.

Sean Flaherty, director of residence life at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, doesn't see a gender-neutral program anytime in the university's near future.

"Overall, it probably creates more problems than it answers questions," Flaherty says.

The sharing of bathroom space and opposition from parents are two of his main concerns.

Flaherty says only once in five years has he been approached by a female student who wanted to live with a male friend. Neither was transgendered.

UCCS does not require any students to live on campus, so housing options are not limited to the offerings of the university. Whereas nearly 80 percent of students live on campus at CC, less than 12 percent do UCCS.

Flaherty estimates 90 to 95 percent of the lesbian, gay and transgendered community living in the dorms never have had problems with their accommodations. When a problem does arise, housing staff tries to work it out with the involved parties, or relocates a student.

Bennett acknowledges that CC's housing program is likely to draw critics locally. But, she says, "it's the right thing to do.

"We are opening ourselves up to criticism in doing the program, but I also think it's a student need."

Meanwhile, schools like Brown University, Lewis and Clark College and the University of Pennsylvania are joining the gender-neutral housing bandwagon.

"General awareness is sort of bringing it to the forefront," Bennett says. "There are more individuals coming to college who are transgendered, many more than in the past, and I think that people are going to high school with students who are learning earlier that it's OK to question your gender, it's OK that you're who you are."

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