Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Increasingly, College Housing Offers Gender Neutral Option

The Baltimore Sun reported yesterday on the increasing number of gender-neutral housing options being offered by colleges and universities. The article focuses on pilot programs underway and in the works at Goucher College, UMBC, and University of Maryland College Park, while noting that around 25 colleges (UConn among them, we've previously noted) offer students a coed living experience.

Proponents of such programs explain that some students are as comfortable, if not more so, living with members of the opposite sex, so making them choose same-sex apartment-mates seems like an "artificial barrier." Coed housing options also makes good business sense for colleges that compete with an off-campus housing market, where coed living among students is common. Last, the coed alternative is a compassionate accommodation for transgendered students, for whom living in a dorm or apartment designated for one sex or the other could be an uncomfortable (or controversial) experience.

Yet while many colleges and universities prohibit coed living, some actually require it -- for married students, that is. Last week a gay couple sued the University of Hawaii after their application to live in married student housing was denied. It's clear that many universities still order their students living arrangements around the outmoded assumptions that men and women living separately before marriage and in opposite-sex couples after marriage. The coed housing movement is helping to change this rigid, heteronormative paradigm.