As gender-neutral housing rolls out at colleges across the country, controversy follows closely behind. A move by UNC-Chapel Hill to allow students the option to room with people regardless of their gender has been overturned by the university’s board, despite strong student support.
The board apparently bought into misinformation on what the policy would entail. "I suspect that if you talk to Board of Governors members, their reason for denying this is probably not accurate to the reasons the students are looking forward to it," Rick Bradley, associate director of housing and residential education says. He cites members not wanting to force students to choose gender-neutral housing (the option would have been voluntary) and the use of tax payer dollars to implement the policy (unnecessary) as their two points of contention.
The reasons students demand gender-neutral housing options are not at all salacious or intended to put students in undesirable situations. Currently, housing options reflect heteronormative cultural values that center binary gender norms and don’t acknowledge that LGBTQI people exist. Opponents of gender-neutral housing often cite couples moving in together, or men and women forced to share quarters as the endgame, without considering that it is currently possible for LGBTQI students to live together in romantic or sexual relationships, as well as for trans men to live with cis women and trans women to live with cis men, for example.
These heteronormative values also get in the way of more concrete concerns like queer and trans student safety. Violence against LGBTQI people, particularly LGBQTI people of color, is still a very big problem in America. Students discovered to be queer or trans by bigoted roommates could be subject to harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of violence, even murder. Forcing them into a housing situation based on their birth sex is far more likely to cause this situation than allowing them to pick to live with a safe person that they know.
In a random selection based on housing students of the same sex, a trans woman could end up bunking with a cis man who, when he finds out she is trans, targets her with violence. Roommates might react with bullying and harassment in what should be the safest space for a student in the entire campus, and any student who feels or is unsafe is not being taken care of appropriately by their university.
College students, particularly upperclassmen, are mature enough to make the housing decisions that are best for them. They know best how to make themselves safe, secure, and productive, and that starts with living with people they trust.
That won’t always be someone of the same gender, and they deserve the right to live in a world where that doesn’t matter.