New housing moves beyond gender

Students will no longer be restricted by gender when choosing on-campus housing next year.Starting this fall, UVM will join the 36 colleges and universities in the nation already offering gender-neutral housing.Returning students interested in living in a housing situation other than the traditional same-gender rooms can apply to live with someone of a different gender.The housing will be available in Wing Davis Wilks and Cooperative Living on Trinity Campus, located in the Trinity “Back 5″ — Sichel, Ready, McCann, Richardson and Hunt halls — according to the Reslife website.Assistant Director for North and Central campuses Tomás Sanchez said he feels the need for this housing option is an issue of safety.”It is really important that those students who do not identify as male or female feel safe,” Sanchez said. “When you give them only male or female options on campus, that does not make them feel safe, and we are losing students because of it.”Living/Learning Center Residence Director T.J. Jourian said he agrees that students are leaving because of the lack of inclusivity in the current residential system.”There are a large number of folks that leave the residence hall system because, for example, they don’t want to live with women — it’s just not who they hang out with, it’s not who they identify with and it’s not who they want to live with,” Jourian said.Furthermore, this system allows students to request gender-neutral housing without disclosing any personal information, he said.”If a student comes to us and has to say ‘I am trans-identified and that is why this is a housing situation that would be preferred and safer for me’ — that takes a lot of courage,”Jourian said. “This gives them the option that they don’t have to say anything. You can ask for it and you don’t have to say why.”Another situation gender-neutral housing can help to avoid is when an individual that doesn’t want their friendliness questioned or misinterpreted by their roommate, he said.”For us to have these archaic notions of who people can consider friends because of gender is just too much,” Jourian said.There are currently 12 individuals signed up for the housing, he said.”More students may have signed up but there were only a few days between the eventual approval for the program and when housing went up online,” Jourian said. “We didn’t get an opportunity to let folks know about it, so we relied only on word of mouth.”The long-term goal for ResLife is to see gender-neutral housing spread throughout the campus, he said.”My hope is that this kind of housing option becomes more of a rule than an exception in the future,” Jourian said.Previously, gender-neutral housing situations have only existed in Living/Learning Center programs, such as this year’s LBGTQA safe space called Spectrum.”We are hoping to attract and provide safe-space housing for students who identify with and are interested in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, polyamorous, questioning, queer and ally communities (no limitations may apply),” according to Spectrum’s program statement.”Spectrum is different from simply gender-neutral housing because we are not just living together, we are learning about LGBTQA culture and history. We don’t simply exist, we have some curriculum,” sophomore program director for Spectrum Mathieu Messier said.Although Spectrum differs from the new gender-neutral housing programs for the fall, Messier said he is very excited and feels this new housing will be beneficial based on his experience with Spectrum.”We had one program member who expressed that they would be more comfortable with someone of the opposite gender,” he said. “After the move, she really blossomed. The other situation with the same-gender roommate really was not good.”Jourian said he believes that this new option will help attract those students who would not feel comfortable in traditional same-gender housing.”Nationwide we are starting to see students coming out and questioning their gender in high school and middle school,” Jourian said. “They are looking for schools with these things in places already and want to know that, if they are going to live on campus for two years, that they will feel like they belong and are safe.”In addition to this new policy, UVM has recently adopted the preferred name policy allowing students to pick the name and pronoun they would like to be addressed by, and gender-neutral bathrooms are located across the campus, Director of ResLife Stacey Miller said.”UVM already has a very positive reputation for supporting students who identify themselves as transgender and/or gender variant,” Miller said. “We in ResLife see gender neutral housing as another step in supporting this sometimes marginalized community”Miller said that ResLife believes that students should be allowed to live with whomever they want to live with based on relationships and comfort and that should not be limited by gender identity.”These are how our students are living off campus in apartments and houses,” she said.”We believe that this just an extension of what students want and really need.”