Before vote, Fisher pushes gender-neutral housing

by Beacon Staff • January 28, 2009

Scott Fisher and his SGA allies are stepping

up their campaign to bring gender-neutral

housing to Emerson as SGA prepares to vote

on the issue at their next meeting Feb. 3.,Student Government Association President Scott Fisher and his SGA allies are stepping up their campaign to bring gender neutral housing to Emerson as SGA prepares to vote on the issue at their next meeting Feb. 3.

Fisher and an unofficial caucus of supporters, which includes a handful of SGA commissioners, are planning an on-campus awareness event and continuing policy talks with school administrators, Fisher said in an interview. If the measure passes, he hopes to form an official SGA committee to hammer out the details of a proposal to present to the Office of Housing and Residence Life for approval as soon as possible.

"I think that as adults, we have the right to choose which friend we live with, regardless of gender," said Fisher, a junior political communication major.

His plan would give students the option of living with members of the opposite sex, or any kind of sex, in Emerson dormitories. Five Massachusetts universities-Brandeis in Waltham, Clark in Worcester, Harvard in Cambridge, Tufts in Medford, and Hampshire College in Amherst-already offer gender-neutral housing, according to the DC-based Gender Public Advocacy Coalition. Across the country, 51 other colleges also allow gender-neutral housing.

Students appear to overwhelmingly support the measure. More than 87 percent of 99 voters agreed with the idea, according to an unscientific poll on berkeleybeacon.com, and more than 500 people have joined a Facebook group started by Fisher last semester supporting gender-neutral housing. Fisher and his committee also conducted polls outside the Dining Hall and Max Mutchnick Campus Center last semester asking people whether they would back "gender-blind housing," which they explained as "the option of requesting to live with whoever you want regardless of gender." Out of 189 people polled, 175 said they supported the idea, 12 said they did not and two said they had no answer.

"Being able to choose who you live with is important because it determines whether or not they'll have a comfortable or enjoyable life at Emerson," Fisher said.

Dean of Students Ronald Ludman said he had not seen a proposal. "The notion of gender-neutral housing is something worth exploring," he said.

Fisher and the committee will fund a rally for gender-neutral housing in the Bill Bordy Theater on Feb. 9. The event will feature representatives from Emerson's Association for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone and a female student with a transgender boyfriend.

There will also be a film/video contest on the topic of why people should support gender-neutral housing. The winner, chosen by audience votes, will receive a cash prize from the committee members and have his or her video aired on Emerson Independent Video as a commercial for gender-neutral housing.

"We want to clearly show the administration how much support there is for gender-neutral housing," Fisher said.

Despite the numbers, some students, like junior radio major Lauren Shaw, expressed concerns about the policy. Shaw said she believes the housing should be restricted to certain floors in the dorms and should be open only to upper classmen, to satisfy students uncomfortable with gender-neutral arrangements. Sophomore Tessia Bekelja agreed.

"I think [gender neutral housing] is a good idea for people who are comfortable with it, but like any living situation, you have to be cautious about who you're going to live with," the writing, literature and publishing major said.

Fisher said he did not believe allowing gender-neutral housing for all students would increase the number of room change requests.

"That happens already with same sex couples, friends who live together, roommates living together for the first time," he said. "I'd hope as adults people would make responsible decisions."

At Brandeis, gender-neutral housing appears to be a non-issue.

"I think that [gender-neutral housing] is going to offer students more [housing] opportunities. I don't think that it can present more problems than there already are [between roommates]," said Brandeis sophomore Matt Gaber in the campus newspaper, iThe Justice/i, this week.

Last semester, the SGA discussed the issue but did not take official action. Fisher said SGA members continued to discuss the policy during individual Commissioners' Council sessions.

Rosalind Fraser, the SGA's Communications Studies Senator and a member of Fisher's unofficial committee, said she hopes the event will get the attention and support of the administration and student body alike.

"I hope we can get the SGA to pass some sort of statement in support of [gender-neutral housing]," she said. "I would love it if we could get gender-neutral housing, at least for a few students, next year."