Willa Segar-Reid grew up with two moms in a house of all women who were accepting of their identification of gender nonconforming. When they came to Emerson, they said they sought the same environment, and it was finally achieved this year in the form of a gender neutral suite.
According to the nonprofit organization Campus Pride, Emerson is one of 201 colleges nationally offering gender neutral housing (GNH), enabling all identities to live together. After the Student Government Association approved it in 2009, all students can apply to live in a suite with any other undergraduates after freshman year, according to the school’s website.
The Office of Housing and Residence Life could not be reached for comment.
Segar-Reid, a sophomore visual and media arts major, said living with another gender came easily to them. Because they identify as gender nonconforming, they said it was important for them to feel safe in their dorm with people they knew very well.
“I think [the naturalness is] because I’m friends with all these people,” Segar-Reid said. “I’m comfortable around everyone because we were all friends before. It’s not like I dropped into another random housing situation.”
The process to be placed in a gender neutral dorm requires the written signature of all roommates and a brief personal statement explaining reasons for participating. OHRL then reviews the application. The office discourages romantic couples from rooming together because of potential relationship challenges, according to Emerson’s website. Applications for all housing options for the upcoming year are due on Friday.
Segar-Reid said the process adds to the success of coed living.
“You approve everyone that goes into your suite, which is nice,” Segar-Reid said. “I’ve had some not great interactions with random housing, so the fact that I could choose who I got to live with is great. You can do that with single gender suites as well, but just the fact that everyone is on board and knows each other is nice.”
Madeleine Derveloy, a sophomore interdisciplinary major, said living in her suite in Colonial Building with her male friend has allowed her to see similarities between their genders.
“It’s beneficial in knowing that guys and girls are the same,” Derveloy said. “We have differences in chemicals and X, Y chromosomes, but we’re just people. The routine is really just getting used to other people, not getting used to a new gender.”
Segar-Reid said they agreed with these sentiments. Their freshman year they were paired with roommates intolerant of their gender identity through the random housing process, they said.
“The pressure to be randomly housed with people who have the same defined gender as you, but who you don’t necessary feel comfortable with—I feel like it’s an issue for a lot of gender nonconforming students,” Segar-Reid said. “There’s less pressure in a gender neutral suite to identify as any one thing.”
Both Derveloy and Segar-Reid said they haven’t noticed any difference in how they live, even with men being around. Not all, however, feel the same.
Shay Denison, a sophomore performing arts major, said she knows many outside of Emerson who disagree with GNH. Although she currently lives in an all female suite, she hasn’t put coed housing out of the question. She said roommate-picking really just depends on who you feel the most familiar around.
“I know some people get along a lot better with guys than they do with girls, or vice versa,” Dension said. “It kind of just depends who you’re close with. I live in a very good environment with [five other] females. I think the pros and cons thing kind of depends on whether you’re put in that situation and you don’t want to be, but our school makes that impossible.”
Denison said she doesn’t know an Emerson student who is against gender neutral housing, something she finds unique about the school.
“I think it’s just a thing when you go to college,” Denison said. “The girls room with the girls and the guys room with the guys. I guess that’s a stereotype in a way. It’s just something that isn’t really considered at a school like Emerson.”
Derveloy said her rooming situation has confirmed the flaws in society’s stereotypes of typical male and female routines.
“It’s not like I have to get up early or stay up late just so I can use the bathroom,” Derveloy said. “It’s not anything crazy. It’s just living with a person. The main thing is people think living with a different gender will be weird, but that’s just not true. People are people.”
Segar-Reid uses they pronouns.