After a semester of deliberations, Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore has submitted an official gender-neutral housing proposal to the University Council on behalf of a subcommittee tasked with addressing the topic.
If the University Council votes to approve the proposal and BU President Robert Brown gives a final signature, gender-neutral options can be implemented in the fall 2013 semester, marking the culmination of several years of effort.
“I actually like to call it ‘gender-neutral roommate selection’ because I think that’s more the crux of the matter,” Elmore said. “We’re not doing anything specific with housing, it’s more or less an option for people. They’re able to select their roommates without regard as to what the gender of that roommate is.”
Under the proposal, students in certain residences will no longer be required to live with roommates of the same gender identity. However, traditionally freshmen residences, such as Warren Towers, West Campus and The Towers, residences that have single-gender community bathrooms and specialty residences are excluded.
“We let students decide who their roommate is without regard to that roommate’s gender or the original student’s gender,” Elmore said.
If the proposal is approved, in the fall 2013 semester students will be able to direct swap regardless of gender identity, thereby creating their own gender-neutral space if they so desire, so long as the residence space is not in one of those excluded from the policy.
“Say you and I are rooming together and I leave,” Elmore said. “You’ve got that vacancy there. You get to make a selection about who your roommate is. That’s how you start to create it in the system.”
Then, during the spring 2014 housing selection cycle, a certain number of bed spaces will be set aside to ensure a minimum amount of gender-neutral availability, but students will be able to determine their roommates regardless of gender in appropriate residences, he said.
“Once we go with starting to let people pull others in, we’re open,” Elmore said. “… It just continues, that’s really the gist of it. We start in the fall with gender-neutral roommate selection.”
Elmore said if students are living in a suite or a room with multiple occupants, every resident must agree to the situation so as to avoid conflict.
He said gender-neutral bathrooms are not included in the proposal, but the way it outlined housing options will address certain concerns.
“Within a suite, there’s one bathroom,” he said. “In an apartment or something like that, there’s maybe one or two, depending on where you live on campus. We’re almost saying you’ve got to work that out yourself. The bathrooms are internal enough that the small number of people living in that space should be able to figure it out.”
Spring 2013 Student Government President Aditya Rudra, who represented the student voice on the committee that composed the gender-neutral housing proposal, said he is pleased to see something tangible submitted to the University Council.
“We’re very happy with the housing proposal,” he said. “… We absolutely support it. We think it’s a fantastic use of university resources that definitely allows students to live more comfortably, regardless of their gender identities.”
Brown tasked the Committee on Student Life and Policies with researching gender-neutral housing options and drafting a recommendation for or against it after the issue was moved to the committee in December.
Officials announced gender-neutral housing was halted as a priority in December, prompting student protests in Brown’s office.
“I think the protest was a great kick in the pants that got them to move their horses and realize that regardless of whether they consider it a priority for them, the students have a very clear idea of how important gender-neutral housing is to them,” Rudra said.
Rudra said students played an integral role in the gender-neutral housing intiative, and he is pleased the student voice was considered on the committee.
“There’s no other force pushing this issue forward besides the student voice,” he said.
Despite feeling satisfaction that the University Council is considering the proposal, Rudra said it is important for the administration to remain open.
“One thing I would urge administration is to be as open about the process as it can be,” he said. “… So we’d like for everything to be clear and transparent as to what the next steps are.”
Elmore said a final decision by the University Council will likely be known before the start of the fall 2013 semester.
“I would think that we have a mechanism where we would get a thumbs up or thumbs down on this certainly by the end of the summer. “… The University Council votes on it, then the president looks at it and says ‘looks good, let’s do it’ … I’m optimistic, but I’m only one vote, and all I’m merely doing is saying ‘here’s the proposal on the table.’”