SGA approves gender-neutral housing vote, needs OK from OHRL

by Beacon Staff • February 4, 2009

The Student Government Association voted unanimously in favor of optional on-campus gender-neutral housing on Feb. 4, a victory for SGA President Scott Fisher, who had been promoting the measure. Next, the SGA will propose gender-neutral housing to the Office of Housing and Residence Life.

Fisher, who proposed the idea last semester, said he expected the outcome because of the support he'd received from an unoffical SGA committee on the matter.

"It's a stronger case now that SGA has officially supported it," Fisher said in a telephone interview with iThe Beacon/i. "It will make a more compelling argument and hopefully, this will send a clear message that this is something Emerson students want."

The motion does not lay out specifics, but it will allow SGA to sit down with administrators from OHRL to flesh out a detailed proposal, including which building or buildings would allow gender-neutral housing and if doubles, singles or suites should be designated as gender blind.

"The next step is just to talk to OHRL and let them know SGA supports this and let them know specifics about how we'd like to see it done," Fisher, a junior political communication major, said.

Fisher said he and his committee conducted two polls outside the Dining Hall and Max Mutchnick Campus Center Cafe last semester. The first, which polled 199 students, indicated that a majority were behind gender-neutral housing. In a separate poll conducted with more than 150 students two weeks later, the same format was used to determine what students specifically wanted to see in terms of gender-neutral housing.

"The majority said any type," Fisher said. "Some said they'd prefer single rooms in suites and doubles, it was in the same ballpark as the first poll."

On Monday, Fisher and his committee will hold and fund an awareness event in the Bill Bordy Theater. The event will feature student speakers including representatives from Emerson's Association for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone and a female student with a trans-gender boyfriend.

There will also be a film and video contest on the topic of why people should support gender-neutral housing with skits or personal stories. 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.

Last week, Dean of Students Ronald Ludman told iThe Beacon/i he had not seen a proposal but, in response to a iBeacon/i reporter's question, said, "The notion of gender-neutral housing is something worth exploring."

Class of 2009 Senator Alli Bizon said she was enthusiastic that SGA had passed the motion after Fisher's efforts.

"I completely support it. I don't see why not [implement gender-neutral housing], in a place that's so accepting of its students," Bizon said. "I'm really glad to see that the administration supports it. I'd love to see it passed by the time I graduate."