University of Michigan to offer limited gender-neutral housing
University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library
Under current practices, students are assigned roommates of the same gender, although housing has offered exceptions for transgender students on a case-by-case basis since 2005.
"There has been growing interest over the last several years with providing a more inclusive environment for all students," said Peter Logan, communications director for housing.
Last year U-M placed 7 students who asked about transgender and gender non-conforming accommodation. Logan said between three to five students were accommodated in previous years.
Under a broad gender-neutral housing policy, students could chose roommates of any gender. In 2010, a group of students approached housing with an open housing proposal. In its most liberal form, the proposal allowed for men and women of any sexual orientation to chose roommates of the opposite gender.
"We weren't prepared to go that far, yet," said Logan, explaining that the GILE program "felt like a comfortable step in that right direction of at least making some accommodation" for students with non-traditional gender identity.
"It's something we wanted to get into deliberately and carefully, because we haven't had much experience in this area," he continued.
Some colleges, including Columbia University and George Washington University, have implemented broad open housing policies. Most colleges that allow for gender-neutral housing, however, review requests case-by-case or have limited programs. Some schools, such as Grinnell College, Michigan State University and Syracuse University, earmark a certain number of their dorm rooms for gender-neutral housing.
With the GILE program, only students who identify as transgender or gender-non conforming may request a roommate of any gender. Their roommate of choice does not have to be transgender. Students who want to participate in the program will apply and be interviewed by housing.
"It gives us an opportunity to study with those students how the process works," Logan said of the GILE program, "We feel [gender-neutral housing] has promise, otherwise we wouldn't be doing this."
Students in the program will have access to a gender-neutral bathroom. Most residence hall bathrooms are restricted to specific genders.
Jackie Simpson, director of U-M's Spectrum Center, a resource for LGBT students, noted that the new GILE program is one of several unique living experiences offered by housing. For example, the university has a residence program for entrepreneurs and a newly-created program for veterans.
"What the environment is going to provide for everybody is an opportunity for support and dialogue and engagement around gender and what gender means in today's society," Simpson said, adding that the GILE program was created after a "long process."
Simpson says she expect U-M to eventually adopt a broad gender-neutral housing policy.
"These things take some time. If you go back to the 1960s, men and women didn't live in the same residence hall and men had to wait at the front desk if they were interested in visiting a woman," Simpson recalled. "Social systems do take time to change, but I don't have any doubt that U-M will continue to grow and learn in this area."
Transgender and gender non-conforming students who want special housing but don't want to live in East Quad can still request other gender-neutral housing options.