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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Co-ed dorm rooms not on agenda … yet

    As private universities across the nation warm to the idea of gender-neutral housing, Residence Life officials said small steps are being taken to address the issue at the UA.

    Gender-neutral housing allows males and females to live in the same room and provides an option for transgender students who want to live in the residence halls.

    While there are no undergraduate gender-neutral dorm rooms, Jim Van Arsdel, director of Residence Life, said the residence halls are in the process of re-signing all single-stall restrooms as gender-neutral, a task that will be completed by the end of the summer.

    Twenty universities in the U.S. offer gender-neutral housing, according to research conducted by The National Student Genderblind Campaign.

    Harvard University will allow all students to apply for gender-neutral housing and include a “”transgender”” option on housing forms starting in spring 2008, according to a Feb. 16 article in The Harvard Crimson.

    Gender-neutral housing will also be available in next fall’s housing cycle at Dartmouth College, according to an article in The Dartmouth on Wednesday.

    At the UA, there are no gender-neutral rooms in undergraduate residence halls, except for single rooms.

    “”I see this issue as being a potentially more explosive issue than race or religion.””
    – Jim Van Arsdel,
    Residence Life director

    But single rooms cost significantly more than a standard double room and students miss out on the opportunity to get the roommate experience, said Jessica Pettitt, coordinator of Social Justice Programs for the Social Justice Leadership Center.

    Comparing the 2006-2007 residence hall rates of single and double rooms, single rooms are $2,000 more than double rooms.

    For these reasons, sometimes transgender students aren’t given the opportunity to think about living on campus, Pettitt said.

    Van Arsdel said the UA does not offer rent equity or reduction for students requiring a single room.

    Pettitt said part of the issue is it goes against social norms for male and females to room together.

    “”There is also a fear of the reaction from alumni or parents if this were to happen,”” Pettitt said.

    Van Arsdel agreed, and said since the UA is a public university, the issue could be more serious than at private universities like Harvard.

    “”I see this issue as being a potentially more explosive issue than race or religion,”” Van Arsdel said. “”Sex really ups the ante in situations like this. But why in the hell should it be different for this group than any other?””

    Living-learning communities

    In some undergraduate residence halls on campus, there are wings designated as “”living-learning communities.”” These wings focus on different groups that are mostly academically oriented, such as the Women in Science and Engineering, Math and Technology wing in Gila Residence Hall and the Eller College Pre-Business wing in La Paz Residence Hall.

    But there are also wings designated for different minority students, such as the O’odham Ki Wing for Native American students at Graham-Greenlee Residence Hall and the Pathways Wing at Manzanita-Mohave Residence Hall created for students who are the first in their family to go to college.

    A wing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is another possibility. This type of wing already exists at the University of California at Berkeley. A live-in theme program adviser provides resources and support for residents’ social and academic needs, according to the UC-Berkeley housing Web site.

    Although this might seem like a solution, Van Arsdel said living-learning communities are most successful when there is an academic component to them.

    “”Typically, those students are much more academically focused, and that’s where the payoffs are,”” Van Arsdel said.

    The theme program at UC-Berkeley is structured this way and is supported by their Residential and Family Living, the LGBT studies minor and LGBT programs and services.

    While an LGBT wing would have benefits, it also might be singling that group out, Van Arsdel said. Pettitt also cited this as a drawback to a specific wing.

    “”There are pros and cons to living-learning communities,”” said Pettitt. “”One con is that now the bad guys know where to go.””

    Pettitt said although a wing like this would give these students the support to teach others about LGBT issues, she also said by dispersing students – as they are now – provides straight students with more exposure to LGBT students and vice versa.

    Planning ahead

    Sharon Overstreet, assistant director of Residence Life, said to her knowledge there is not a need for transgender students to have gender-neutral housing.

    The only housing on campus where gender is not a factor is La Aldea, an apartment-style complex for graduate students, Overstreet said.

    But Residence Life shouldn’t wait for a need to provide a solution, Kraus said.

    “”I believe there is a demand and we should be prepared,”” Kraus said. “”We should think it through now, rather than have a student be uncomfortable to approach us.””

    Kraus also pointed out there is no space in the housing application process for someone to identify themselves as having a need for gender-neutral housing.

    “”I think too often in the transgender experience, the issue isn’t addressed until there’s a problem,”” Kraus said.

    Van Arsdel pointed out that schools like Harvard are more likely to address these issues first because they are private, relatively small, and have more homogenous student bodies.

    Overstreet said Residence Life is trying to provide education and awareness through programs and workshops.

    “”But there’s always more I think we could be doing,”” Overstreet said.

    Van Arsdel also said Residence Life might identify more small steps it could take but doesn’t know what they would be.

    “”We’ll get there someday, but a lot of that will depend on how other things in society envelope this issue,”” Van Arsdel said.

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