As the housing and room-draw process approaches, there has been an on-going push for the addition of gender neutral housing into Gustavus’ Residental Life housing options. Gender-neutral housing is a style in which gender is not considered as a characteristic of housing. It has recently become a topic of discussion for both Student Senate and the Gustavus community.
Gender-neutral housing may sound deceiving, as the purpose of this housing option isn’t about boys and girls living together or promoting sexual activity in dorms.
“It is very pop-culture to imagine raging parties or sexual activities. This is not the purpose or philosophy of gender-neutral housing. The purpose is for those students who identify as having a different sex or gender from that assigned to them at birth,” Student Senate Co-President Tasha Ostendorf said.
Charlie Potts, Director of Residential Life on campus, said that this addition could present benefits to the Gustavus community.
“If done properly and given adequate planning and appropriate considerations, I think that mixed-gender housing could be a benefit,” Potts said.
“Opening up more opportunities for students to feel comfortable about who they are living with is always a good thing,” Ostendorf said.
Co-President of Queers & Allies, Tristan Fernstrom, believes having a gender-neutral housing option would give him, and many others who prefer transgender housing, a comfortable and safe place to live.
Colleges in Minnesota such as Carleton College, Augsburg College, and Macalaster College have incorporated this collective housing style into their housing options for students. Dakota Darkstar, a Gustavus Junior and transfer student from Augsburg College, recalls gender-neutral housing as an option at Augsburg during his two year experience.
“The top two floors of one of our upper-class buildings were dedicated as ELE (Everyone Loves Everyone). I believe it was a great addition, and could be here at Gustavus as well,” Darkstar said.
This Residential option at Augsburg included LGBT students, but was not limited to just those students, however.
These colleges offer this housing option through the similar practice of giving upper-class individuals the ability to apply for off-campus status and then select their housing in a gender-neutral fashion,” Ostendorf said.
Like any controversial topic, there are also potential obstacles to incorporating gender-neutral housing.
“Any time that you introduce a new dynamic into a living environment there are challenges and opportunities-
generally short-term challenges that can allow for long-term benefits,” Potts said.
Parents of students may have a dissenting voice. “It may seem hard for some parents to imagine their offspring living with individuals they perceive to be members of the opposite sex or gender,” Ostendorf said.
Some believe that the true purpose of this housing option should be made clear from the beginning to avoid assumptions.
“There may be complaints as to why heterosexual couples would not be granted the gender-neutral housing option,” Fernstrom said.
Currently, on-campus housing options for transgender students are limited.
“Right now, students who do not conform to the gender binary and who are seeking gender neutral housing do not have a discreet way to make this known to Res Life,” Fernstrom said. “This is problematic because some students may not be comfortable with outing themselves as transgender to the Director of Residential Life or whomever is involved, and it is unnecessary and borderline rude to have someone out themselves for the sake of rooming in a safe space.”
One solution could be including a gender-neutral option in the housing applications one fills out as a first-year or transferring student at Gustavus.
“It not only makes it less stressful on the student and prevents any awkward interaction in person, but also creates a greater sense of anonymity for the student involved. This note made or box checked in the housing application can be taken into account and saved into the student’s record for the years that they are on campus,” Fernstrom said.
Since Gustavus is considered a small, private campus that requires four year residency and special permission to live off-campus, Fernstrom believes this housing option needs to be more readily available to all students.
Gustavus Student Senate has also been taking action to find some prospective buildings for gender-neutral housing. Good candidates for gender-neutral space include Arbor View Apartments, College View Apartments, and Chapel View Apartments, which all have two bathrooms.
Both Student Senate and Residential Life have been looking into the addition of gender-neutral housing at Gustavus. More student-initiated conversation is being encouraged to get a variety of input about this style of housing.
“I am absolutely open to having student input and would welcome Senate—or other student groups-working closely with Residential Life to find out ways to gather more perceptions and thoughts,” Potts said.
Currently, Student Senate is in the stages of analyzing the ways in which similar sized and structured institutions do their gender-neutral housing and working through the best options for implementing this at Gustavus.
Some believe observing how other colleges are handling this will help the Student Senate make the best decision possible while working with Residential Life.
To initiate this residential style into the Gustavus community, Potts believes there is still more work that needs to be done.
“There needs to be more interest and more attention given to the conversation in order to build to the point of taking action and creating change,” Potts said.
- Gives students more options for finding compatible roommates
- Gives students the chance to make their own decisions as adults
- Positive social interaction
- Exposes everyone to the real world, which does not serparate women and men into same sex spheres
- More diverse atmosphere
- Can learn social skills to get along with everyone, not just your own gender
- Could provide a learning experience for what living with the opposite gender will really be like in the future
- Equal opportunities for comfortable living for LGBT students
- Lack of privacy or uncomfortable situations
- Sexual harassment can be an issue
- Men and women usually stand on the opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of cleanliness
- Less privacy or more noise in differing living styles
- Could be a distraction to live with the opposite gender in terms of education/studying
- Could be possible drama between males and females about relationship issues
- Could increase drinking and partying