More and more colleges are considering to add coed dorms to housing option
Want to live with your boyfriend or girlfriend on campus?
Colleges across the country are becoming open to gender-neutral housing, meaning male and female students can live under one dorm roof.
George Mason University, located in Fairfax, Va., will become the most recent college to offer gender-neutral housing and may offer it as soon as this fall, joining colleges like Ohio University, Oberlin University, Pennsylvania University, the George Washington University and Stanford University.
“Giving our upper-class students the opportunity to select their suitemates without restrictions embraces the needs of the broader Mason community,” says Denise Taylor, the executive director of Housing and Residence Life at Mason. “Our students are open to differences at Mason and will recognize that one size does not fit all even where housing is concerned.”
Oberlin College first instituted gender-neutral dorms in 1970. More colleges have been considering the new option since and there are currently 58 colleges across the country that offer the program.
The University of Pennsylvania drafted the idea in 2003 and began offering coed housing for students in the 2005-2006 school year. Ron Ozio, director of media relations at UPenn, says the idea started when students asked the university if they would consider gender-neutral housing and it has been successful since.
“It has gotten more attention outside of Penn than it ever got inside. Everybody at Penn just accepted it. It was fine. Everyone was cool about it,” Ozio says. “It has never been an issue here.”
While policies vary from college to college, gender-neutral dorms are strictly by choice and never forced upon any of the students. UPenn first required students to be upperclassman but has since changed it so students just need to be 18 years old or older, Ozio says.
Schools trying it out for the first time, like Mason, ask students to sign a waiver and to meet with housing staff members face-to-face. At schools like UPenn, it is now just a checkbox on the housing application.
“It is a great option for our students and [it is] something our students want so we are very inclusive and supportive of our student body,” says Pete Trentacoste, the executive director of Residential Housing at Ohio University. “We’re a campus that prides ourselves on having a diverse community so it certainly fits with the values of the institution.”
While more schools are offering the housing option, only a small portion of students take advantage of the new housing opportunity. Last school year at UPenn, according to Ozio, only 300 students took part in the gender-neutral housing out of 10,000, accounting for only 3% of the on-campus student population.
At Ohio, Trentacoste says, there is also a limited number of students who are in the program but they are close-knit and led by strong leaders, which results in few dilemmas.
“I have yet to find some new story that says that the end of time is coming because they brought this option,” Trentacoste says. “Men and women have been living together off-campus since the beginning of time … it has been positive for us with no controversy.”
One of those students is senior Emily Ehrle, 22, who has been living in gender-neutral housing since it started at Ohio University in 2011. She lived with her boyfriend, who graduated in 2012, but still resides in gender-neutral housing. The couple, Ehrle says, shared much success and got engaged last February on Valentine’s Day.
“I honestly think living in gender-neutral housing helped our relationship to bud and grow and really prosper,” says the social work major. “We are just like every other dorm community except for the fact that we are a lot closer.”
There are also students who do not like the idea of gender-neutral housing. While the housing option could be used for married couples, it could also be used the wrong way, a point mentioned by Mason public administration major Nick Kupstas.
“I think there will be a lot more drama, people trying to change rooms in the middle of the semester … I think if you have people in relationships living together and they break up, it will cause headaches,” says the 19-year-old junior from New Jersey. “I think it will have more negative outcomes compared to positive ones.”
While there are positives and negatives to gender-neutral housing, Ehrle summarized the goal behind gender-neutral housing best.
“The main role of gender neutral housing is to provide a community where people feel safe, included and respected regardless of their orientation.”
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