Friday, February 22, 2013

Gender-neutral housing at PLU an ongoing conversation

by Ashley Gill, Guest Writer

     This time next year, residential wings on campus might not be separated by gender any longer. With the exception of Hong and South halls, every residential wing on campus is divided by gender.

    The long process of gender-neutral housing in Pacific Lutheran University’s residence halls is on the fast track.

    The conversation started during the 2010-2011 school year. RHA and ASPLU introduced the first piece of official legislation in March 2011. Both organizations worked on a proposal, and ASPLU President Alexis Ballinger and Diversity Director Angie Hambrick were responsible for most of the conversation.

    But the idea of gender-neutral housing soon faded into the background.

    “It was a bit inflammatory,” ASPLU President Ian Metz said. “It had to be put on the back burner until it cooled down a bit.”

    Metz, along with ASPLU’s Diversity Director Karter Booher, took the initiative this school year and once they prioritized it as a primary goal, the wheels started moving.

    “In three years,” Metz said, “if that input [against gender-neutral housing] has not been shared, then at this point we need to move forward.”

    Booher took the lead, and ASPLU presented a resolution in December 2012. A gender-neutral housing task force was primarily responsible for producing a report, providing recommendations and being the driving force for the continuation and productivity of this topic.

    “We would not have been able to do this,” Booher said, “without the help of those professional staff members who put in time and effort outside of their normal job description to make sure that this was the best policy proposal we could put forward.”

    The task force and Residential Life spent January 2013 working together, looking at the best practices across the nation and applying them to PLU’s specific conditions.    

    Residence Hall Congress, RHA and ASPLU have all approved the resolution for gender-neutral housing. It still needs to be approved by Vice President of Student Life Laura Majovski, among others.

    The Board of Regents does not need to approve the resolution, although they are constantly being updated on its progress.

    Residential Life had already made changes in the housing questionnaire for the 2012-2013 school year by adding questions in efforts to provide options for safer, more comfortable housing for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual,  transgender and queer) students.

    As of this school year, upperclassmen are permitted to live in gender-neutral apartments in South Hall. Many underclassmen or upperclassmen unable to afford accommodations in South that would be more comfortable living in a gender-neutral situation are unable to do so.

    “Students who want to live in a gender-neutral environment, or even just in a mixed wing, should not have to pay more or even leave the traditional residence hall housing if they do not want to,” Booher said.

    Gender-neutral housing will be accessible to all students if it passes this spring. It will include better access to more equitable housing and safer, more affirming housing. LGBTQ students were the spark behind it, but all students can apply to live there.

    Students will not be placed in a mixed wing by random because there is an application process. Students can also apply to live in a gender-neutral room within the mixed wing in which they will have a member of the opposite sex as a roommate. The regulations preventing any romantic affiliations between roommates are still in place and will not change. Unless married, those in romantic or intimate relationships will not be allowed to room together.

    Hong Hall resident first-year Micah Baits said, “Having gender diversity can be a great experience, especially when it comes to living communities.” Hong Hall is the only residence hall on campus with mixed-gender wings.