As schools across the country experiment with gender-neutral facilities, some students say an environment without gender labels has become an integral part of their college experience.
According to a November 9 USA TODAY article, at least 54 colleges and universities across the country are offering gender-neutral housing this year,
Having gender-neutral universities takes away the assumption that there are two genders. Several colleges consider this a progressive way of looking at gender theories, giving the students the chance to define themselves. Gender-neutral colleges can be a safe and comfortable place for students who are transgender or who don’t identify with their biological sex.
At Grinnell College, a small, private, liberal arts college in Iowa, the number of students at Grinnell living in gender-neutral housing on campus has grown from 1% in 2008-2009 to 18% this year. The school offers gender-neutral dorm rooms, bathrooms and locker rooms.
For Lena Jo Beckenstein, a freshman at Hampshire College, where students of both sexes have shared bedrooms and bathrooms since the 1970s, gender-neutrality has become second nature.
“I can’t picture Hampshire being the same college if it had non gender-neutral housing,” Beckenstein said. “[But] there are so many people who don’t associate with the gender binary.”
Beckenstein said when students first introduce themselves at the Massachusetts college, they include the gendered pronoun they prefer to be addressed by. The college is also currently revising all of its documents to include gender-neutral pronouns, according to Beckenstein.
On a functional level, Beckenstein said that she didn’t mind sharing facilities, but that it can be surprising to walk into an unlabeled bathroom.
“I kind of walk around in a towel,” Beckenstein said. “It doesn’t bother me that much.”
While gender-neutral facilities have flourished at small, progressive colleges like Hampshire and Grinnell, other schools have not been so quick to embrace the idea. Next fall, for example, Catholic University in Washington will only have single sex dorms in an effort to “reduce binge drinking and casual sex.”
John Garvey, the university’s president, told USA TODAY that he disagreed with the concept of gender-neutral housing.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Garvey said. “I think it’s naive to imagine that we’re doing a good thing shoving college students together.”
Beckenstein said that while she supported giving people the option of living in halls that weren’t gender-neutral, she strongly felt that Hampshire’s open environment had enriched her time in college.
“Any level of diversity adds to an experience,” she said.
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