Columbia Moves Toward Gender-Neutral Housing

New policy would give undergraduate students option to live with opposite sex

Columbia University students could soon have more options when it comes to selecting roommates. Under pressure from gay, lesbian, and transsexual students, Columbia is edging closer to a gender-neutral housing policy, similar to existing rules at most other Ivy League colleges.

The current policy requires undergraduate students living in campus housing to live room with a student of the same sex. Girls with girls. Boys with boys. But this makes many gay and transgender students uneasy.

“It’s important to make sure every student has the opportunity to have a living space in which they feel comfortable,” said Sarah Weiss, vice president of policy for Columbia’s Student Council. “We felt that a gender-neutral option would make that possible for a greater number of students.”

Undergraduate dorms off Amsterdam Avenue.

Under the new policy, students would be able to room with a member of the opposite sex. The policy still provides the option of same-sex housing for those who prefer it, and in a situation where a roommate moves out, the student would automatically be replaced with someone of the same gender.

Thus, the possibility of rooming with a member of the opposite sex could only happen if specifically requested. If adopted, the new policy would only pertain to undergraduate sophomores, juniors and seniors living in Columbia housing.

Columbia’s Queer Alliance says the university’s current housing rules are insensitive to gay and lesbian students for two reasons. First, in same-sex situations, cases of sexual tension are often cited as an issue. Second, roommates of gay students often feel uncomfortable discussing feelings of homophobia, creating an unhealthy atmosphere for both parties. Proponents of the resolution say a gender-neutral housing policy would allow students to avoid such situations.

The new policy would also be a triumph for Columbia’s transsexual students, according to Queer Alliance member Sean Udell.

“[Current policy] forces transsexuals to choose ‘female’ or ‘male’ during the housing application process, and sometimes people don’t completely identify with either sex” Udell said. “The new policy would be more inclusive.”

Under the proposed policy, the housing application would no longer require students to check a box indicating their sex. The form would only ask what gender roommate students would prefer to live with.

Udell, who identifies himself as “non-heterosexual”, plans to take advantage of the policy next year. He currently lives in a single room and shares a suite with seven girls. Next year, he plans to move into the same room with a female friend.

“I feel like living with a friend who is female because I’m comfortable with that,” Udell said.

Student council representatives say that, overall, they have met with little resistance. The greatest opposition to the proposed changes, however, has been in response to the policy’s allowance of undergraduate couples housing, an inadvertent byproduct of the policy that will allow couples to choose to live in the same room.

Detractors of the policy fear undergraduate students may not be emotionally mature enough to handle being in a relationship and living together, something the new framework would allow. So far, parents have been the major voice of the opposition.

“As far as coed roommates go, that would be insane. If our child chose to do that, we would opt out,” said Laura Hannon, the mother of a Columbia sophomore.

If Columbia adopts the proposed policy, it will join most of the Ivy League in offering a gender-neutral housing option. Only Yale will not offer students the choice to live with roommates of the same sex.

The Columbia Student Housing Advisory Board, the Columbia College Student Council, and the Engineering Student Council have already approved the resolution. A final decision is expected to be handed down by Deans Kevin Shollenberger, Michele Moody-Adams and Feniosky Pena-Mora in the next few weeks.

If accepted, the policy would go into effect next fall.

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