The case for gender-neutral housing

by Beacon Staff • December 10, 2008

While doing polling on gender neutral housing several weeks ago, a friend came up to me and said "thanks." She told me the story of her transgender boyfriend and how much it meant to him when Emerson opened gender neutral bathrooms; that it was one of the only times in his life he's ever felt someone actually cared about his community.

Now, as we work on gender neutral on-campus housing as an option for students, I fear some people may have forgotten the purpose. This isn't about couples living together, and it's not just about transgender students, either. This is about every student feeling comfortable with who they are and how they live. Gender-neutral housing wouldn't mean students would be randomly assigned roommates regardless of gender. It would mean you could request to live with any friend you wanted, regardless of their gender.

A recent poll I worked on with SGA's Commissioner Council found that 93 percent of students supported some form of gender-neutral housing. Colleges across America are beginning to offer this as an option, and it's time for Emerson to do the same. I propose that beginning next year the college allow gender-neutral housing on at least three floors of the Little Building to accommodate student demand. I believe we have the right to choose who we live with anywhere on campus, but this would hopefully accommodate a large amount of interested students while proving to the administration that the change would not throw the housing selection process into chaos.

The administration will ask some important questions. Would heterosexual couples live together and then break up? And what would implementing this do to the school's image? These questions are valid but the answers are clear. As confirmed by Mary Wegmann, of Housing and Residence Life, studies have shown that offering gender-neutral housing on other college campuses has not led to increases in roommate change requests and has not had any other significant negative impacts on on-campus housing. Living with the roommate of your choice would probably lower the number of roommate changes. Allowing gender-neutral housing would also send a clear message to prospective students and families: Emerson respects your right to live your life how you see fit.

Some members of the administration may approach this issue with caution, but my job as SGA President isn't to represent the administration. My job is to represent the students, especially those students who feel their voices aren't being heard. Whether that student is transgender, a victim of same-gender sexual assault, or just someone who wants to live with a friend of another gender, they deserve the right to make their own decisions.

Living with other people is hard enough; we all deserve the right to decide who we want to live with to make our experiences more enjoyable and comfortable. When I think about this issue, I think about that transgender student who would currently be isolated as a freshman in a single-they deserve to be treated equally. That student is depending on us to take a stand, break through old customs and move toward what is right. But it's not about just them. We're all adults so let's demand to be treated as such-this isn't summer camp and friends of opposite genders should be allowed to live together if they want to. If you care about this issue, join the Facebook group "Emerson Students for Gender Neutral Housing" and share your stories or opinions. This change isn't going to be easy, but together we can make it happen.

iScott Douglas Fisher is a junior communication studies major and president of the Student Government Association./i