Gender neutral housing across campus becoming a possibility

By Bryan LeBlanc

Staff Writer

After getting through the rush of the recent housing lottery, the Office of Residential Education and Housing is on to new plans: attaining gender neutral housing. Students, especially in the recent presidential and vice presidential debates, have expressed their support of gender neutral housing. 

Yet some people have pointed out that while their support is strong, it is also vague. Kristan Hausman, Director of Housing, pointed out in an interview that none of the candidates who mentioned it on their platforms discussed their plans with her. To her, student support would be more meaningful if it had more structure, saying that “we have to work and collaborate together.” 

She also said that the co-ed housing that some seniors experience in apartments is a form of a pilot program for gender-neutral housing at Denison. Now, in its second year, co-ed housing for senior apartments was originally going to be called “gender-neutral” before the Board of Trustees decided that the term “co-ed” would be more accepting to the general population of Denison students.

Regardless of what it is called, co-ed housing at Denison has been a success thus far; the number of four-person co-ed groups in the pilot program has risen steadily since its beginning, with 7 groups the first year, 9 groups this year and 16 groups for the upcoming year, with one staff apartment also opting into the experience each year. The 2013-2014 year was also the first time seniors could live in Special Interest, substance-free or quiet co-ed apartments. 

Hausman points out that these co-ed apartments had significantly less roommate conflicts; of the conflicts she has had over the years, “none of them have popped up in the co-ed spaces.” Results of surveys of seniors who lived in co-ed apartments said that “a lot of students are appreciating the experience” of living with students of other genders. 

This comfort is what housing is all about–Hausman chalks up the lack of roommate conflicts to the fact that these students self-selected roommates who they were comfortable with, regardless of gender. 

Besides the co-ed housing for some senior apartments, Housing can also make individual accommodations for students who feel uncomfortable being forced to live with another student of the same gender. Despite Housing’s ability to meet the needs of individual cases, some more formal version of gender-neutral housing across campus looks promising. “The landscape of higher education is changing,” Kristan added, pointing out that Ohio University instituted gender-neutral housing recently. Twelve colleges in the Great Lakes College Association (Denison’s consortium) have also adopted such a policy: Oberlin, Kenyon, Allegheny, Antioch and Wooster have some form of gender-neutral housing, while Depauw has certain halls with gender-neutral bathrooms and Wabash remains a male-only college. 

Denison, Earlham, Hope and Ohio Wesleyan are the four co-ed colleges that do not have gender-neutral housing policies in place. Moving forward, Hausman’s plan is to “pull a group together” and continue researching how other colleges have instituted their gender-neutral policies, hopefully before and during the summer break. 

The end goal is to have a proposal drafted before Thanksgiving and to have the Board of Trustees approve this proposal before the next housing lottery takes place. If you have an interest in being on a committee for enacting gender-neutral housing at Denison, please email Kristan Hausman (hausmank@denison.edu).

Image courtesy Bryan LeBlanc