Exploring New Housing

October 06, 2010

Amid growing trend, GW examines gender neutral housing

Gender neutral housing—typically a policy of permitting male and female students to share the same room or adjacent rooms with a common area—is a growing movement in higher education.

Writing on the blog The Answer Sheet: A School Survival Guide for Parents (and Everyone Else), Washington Post reporter writer Valerie Strauss called “mixed-gender rooms” the “latest college trend” last March.

About 50 schools nationwide, including Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia universities and University of Michigan, have implemented the “genderblind campaign,” she said, citing a Los Angeles Times story.

In light of the growing trend and at the urging of GW students, including the student organization Allied in Pride, the university is examining the issue of gender neutral housing and its potential impact on the GW community.

A GW review committee convened earlier this year to research the issue includes students, faculty, staff, alumni and parent representatives. The committee examined best practices in gender neutral housing options, and as part of its research, the group adopted a definition of gender neutral housing publicized by Brandeis University.

The plan under consideration would allow students to choose residence halls that are gender neutral, or as Brandeis puts it, housing options “in which two or more students may share a multiple-occupancy bedroom, in mutual agreement, regardless of the students’ sex or gender.”

Most GW residence halls house both male and female students, except for Merriweather Hall and 2109 F Street, which are only for women.

“Gender neutral housing is an extremely important issue to a broad spectrum of students,” says senior Michael Komo, president of Allied in Pride. “It provides an opportunity for students to live with the students with whom they feel most comfortable.”

Mr. Komo stresses that the program his organization is promoting would be completely voluntary, and students who do not specifically request gender neutral housing would never be randomly assigned a roommate of the opposite sex.

Students have taken advantage of the programs in the 50 other colleges and universities, according to Mr. Komo, and not one of the schools has canceled the gender neutral housing option.

Lobbying efforts by Mr. Komo’s group led to a resolution passed by the Student Association Senate last January calling for a gender neutral housing program to be established at GW as soon as possible.

“Right after the legislation passed we convened a review committee to examine the issues around gender neutral housing and make recommendations to GW senior management,” says Peter Konwerski, senior associate vice president and dean of students, who organized the committee.

“GW has a long tradition of creating safe, supportive housing options for the diverse array of students who enter our community,” says Dr. Konwerski. “Throughout its discussions, the committee has been trying to balance the needs of students who are transgendered or questioning their gender identity and to ensure the university is providing a comfortable environment in our housing for all of our residents.”

GW presently offers two options that enable students of different genders to live together. Six students currently live in the Escaping Gender Living and Learning Cohort, which was founded in 2008 and is located on F Street. Another six students live in the Washington Williams House, which is on 22nd Street.

Though only a dozen students live in Escaping Gender and the Washington Williams House, many others have expressed interest in gender neutral housing, according to Mr. Komo.

At other universities, an average of 1 to 2 percent of the student body lives in gender neutral housing, says Mr. Komo, whose Facebook group Colonials for Gender Neutral Housing currently has more than 300 members.

“The students have successfully lived in the program for three years,” Mr. Komo says of the Escaping Gender house, “which is why we want to expand the program to give everyone at GW the opportunity to live in a gender neutral environment.”

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