Point Why We Should Have Gender Neutral Housing...
by Allison Horky
Counterpoint ...And Why We Shouldn't
by Anya Nona
This article is about housing - the inherent right to live as one desires to live.
Moreover, the University and Housing vows to protect this right within their halls and apartments in order to provide a safe and comfortable living environment. While my personal opinion on this matter motivates and propels me to organize in a way that will establish gender neutral housing at this institution, I believe that University Housing actually said it first. Let us break down the ‘Living at Michigan Credo’ as it supports the establishment of gender neutral housing. The Living at Michigan Credo declares:
The University of Michigan is a special place. It is an educational community designed to foster freedom of thought and unconventional, even uncomfortable, opinions.
If I close my eyes and imagine the 1970s, I can see men and women fighting about integrating West Quad. Lettireang women live in the same quarters as men matched the revolutionary sentiment of the time. My freshman year, I was neither bothered nor blown away by seeing half toweled boys come out of the room next to me on their way to the shower. We are adults; we’ve crossed that threshold.
The opinion that two people of different genders should be able to live with each other outside of a special arrangement might be unconventional and even uncomfortable for a Midwestern University. However, as University Housing states, we should not run nor hide from this notion. Rather, the Credo insists we should:
provide an environment conducive to inquiry, in which innovation and creativity are nurtured. Part of this openness to ideas is an acceptance and appreciation of diverse cultures from around the country and around the world— an allowance not only for people to be different, but recognition that such diversity is the vital core of University life.
In my five years living in the residence halls, three of which were spent as a Resident Advisor, I also came to value and appreciate the diversity that the University relentlessly praises. I understood that by being around, listening to, challenging, and having fun with people that experience the world differently than I do, I was becoming a better citizen of the world.
In addition, being on the Spectrum Student Advisory Board taught me to empathize and understand how differently transgender people experience Housing. The female-male binary that exists within society becomes problematic in Housing, where women only room with women and men only room with men. What if the person’s internal gender identity requires an external transition from a woman to a man or if they feel more comfortable with a gender expression that is somewhere along the gender continuum? Does the University allow a place for these individuals? Luckily, the Credo supports this type of gender discovery:
Many students use their college years to explore and develop their personal identity and values. We believe this exploration can best take place in an environment that is open to and respectful of individuals across the spectrum of human differences and distinctions.
My experiences have been mostly in line with these words, however, I’ve noticed the populations the Credo doesn’t satisfy. I once met a transgender person that had lived in Northwood in a single apartment. They expressed thanks that an arrangement could be made to provide them with safety and comfort, but also noted that there was some jealousy toward their friends living on central with roommates. And thus, the University calls on us, themselves and anyone else to take action:
It is the responsibility of every member of the Housing community, staff and students alike, to work to create and maintain such an environment. We pledge to work collectively to examine our values and conduct, and to question those values when they reflect an origin of fear, anger, or ignorance. Acts of bigotry are acts of hatred against us all, and they will not be condoned or tolerated.
It is hard for me to say it much better than this last passage does. In order for us to live fully and completely as the people we know that we should be on the inside, and deserve to be on the outside, we must all act in a way that fulfills and honors the University’s Non-Discrimination Statement – “[we] are committed to a policy of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity for all persons regardless of…sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression…”
I challenge each administrator, student, faculty, employee, leader, and member of this place we call home, our University of Michigan, to “provide an example of involved citizenship” (Credo). I would personally like to do as Housing instructs at the end of their Credo, and join them in “this affirmation of our common humanity.”
College: the start of a new era in a student’s life. This is also synonymous with new friends, partying, living away from home, and most of all, stress. The only way college could become more stressful your freshman year is finding out you will be living with someone of the opposite gender in a ten-foot by eight-foot dorm room. This takes the phrase “experimenting in college” to a whole new level.
Imagine a female freshman student walking into her dorm building, pink-flowered bedding with matching wall décor in tow, being told that she will be sharing a room with a football toting, ball-scratching guy. How will their room have the proper feng shui she had been imagining all summer if both roommates have such opposite styles? Not to mention the fact that her personals (ie. bras, makeup, and tampons) will be out for display every day all school year. As this new student thinks more and more about the situation, suddenly her excitement turns to anxiety and college dorm life is no longer a matter of comfort, but of concern.
Same-sex dorm rooms can actually be more fun and definitely are a more supportive environment for the LGBT community.
Maybe the most obvious issue with gender neutral housing is the fact that guys and girls of a sexually mature age could easily get sidetracked from focusing on schoolwork and grades and become obsessed with constantly trying to impress the other sex. Girls will be fully dressed and made-up at all hours of the day and students will find themselves lost in clouds of Axe spray from just walking down the hallways.
Gender neutral housing not only brings attention to these social problems, but also to health and safety issues. The age in which students enter college is one in which sexuality is still being explored and matured. To put hormonal teenagers fresh out of high school in such close quarters can be problematic with the natural ebb and flow of social and sexual interaction between males and females. Not to mention how awkward it would be to walk in on your roommate of another gender hooking up with his or her respective boyfriend or girlfriend.
There is also the question of whether or not having roommates of opposite genders is a safe environment. Not to say that having guys and girls living in the same building is unsafe, but in the same room could turn to more serious sexual problems, such as sexual harassment. Though there may not be any physical harassment happening, girls can become subject to “locker room talk” or vulgar and lewd talk from their male roommates, making the living quarters extremely uncomfortable and stressful for college girls. This type of harassment is also virtually impossible to talk to a Resident Advisor for immediate help, as it often comes in forms of passing comments, feelings and gossip. RAs often have little authority in room changes and enforcing U-M policy when there is no direct evidence.
Though the idea of having a co-ed dorm seems like the perfect place for dating opportunities, dating someone in your dorm is, unfortunately, a very bad idea. It’s kind of like living together after the first date, and there is no opportunity to get away from one another. Your private business suddenly becomes you entire hallway’s drama and, if you happen to break up, you’re forced to live together for the remainder of the school year.
Girls will be fully dressed and made-up at all hours of the day and students will find themselves lost in clouds of Axe spray from just walking down the hallways.
To be completely frank, same-sex dorm rooms can actually be more fun and definitely are a more supportive environment for the LGBT community. But the fact of the matter is that students will take advantage of the opportunity for the wrong reasons. This is unavoidable. Both males and females tend to be truer to themselves and to others when there are not people of the opposite gender around to impress or be cautious with. Freshman year of college is stressful enough, so the added pressure of living with the opposite sex only intensifies this hectic period.
Overall, co-ed dorms seem to be an overly stressful, distracting addition to the already chaotic college lifestyle. And for what? To be around the opposite sex more? Just take a walk to the Diag and people-watch instead. Gender neutral housing is not a necessary policy for U-M. The assertion that it will create a safer environment is unsubstantial compared to the damage it would cause. U-M already offers an inclusive space for people of all identities, and evidence against this will not be remedied by a housing policy that encourages uncomfortable quarters for residents.
About the Issue
Point author: Allison Horky is a graduate student in the School of Social Work and is co-chair of the Spectrum Center Student Advisory Board. She has been involved with the Gender Neutral Housing Campaign for some time now and is currently working on a report to be presented to the University’s Board of Regents.
Counterpoint author: Anya Nona is an associate professor of English at the University of Illinois. His most recent book, Milton and the Post-Secular Present, will be published by the Stanford University Press in Fall 2011.
Edited by: Tanya Rogovyk
Cover by: Rose Jaffe