Gender-Neutral Housing Comes to Oneonta

Whitney Bashaw, Editor-in-Chief

   In an effort to offer more options for students living on campus, Residential Life will be introducing a pilot program for gender-neutral housing. The top two floors of Higgins will be utilized for the program that will begin at the start of the next academic year, Fall 2012.

   Residential Life and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) “started thinking about this 3 or 4 years ago,” according to Mike Farmer, an Assistant Residence Director dubbed “the housing guy” who is involved in occupancy management, “to address non-traditional situations for students with different needs.”

   Two information sessions were held in February wherein Residential Life explained, “traditional policy no longer meets the needs of today’s Oneonta students” and “in order to promote diversity on our campus and foster understanding of different lifestyles, Residence Life must have residential halls and living options that are inclusive and accepting to all students.” This rationale was confirmed by a survey that was conducted last semester, in which the student body showed overwhelming support.

   These housing arrangements are open for all students who are interested in a different housing situation. “The gender neutral housing is great for LGBT students however I think it’s much broader than that…it has an impact on heterosexual (cisgender) students [as well],” explains Robin Nussbaum, coordinator of the GSRC and an adjunct professor of social psychology. “It allows you to make a lot more choices about who you live with and how you arrange your involving experience and I think that is one of the biggest benefits of gender-neutral housing.”

   For students, this is an important move in the right direction. Sophomore Kevin Murray, who intends to take advantage of the pilot program with four female friends, says: “for the LGBT community, it’s about time. it would feel more like home if I could live with people I’m more comfortable with.” This is especially pertinent, as Murray recounted how a friend transferred out of Oneonta last semester after an uncomfortable dorm situation. “You’re not forced to live with the same gender regardless of whether you get along with them simply because that’s how the college wants you to live,” says Murray.

   Considering many other colleges have decided to implement gender-neutral housing programs to much success, this implies a greater push toward gender-inclusive and gender-neutral safe environments. Farmer remarked that they “looked to other schools for models of how to do this.”
Applications will be available in the Residence Life Office beginning March 5 and are due at the end of March. Because the dorms will be exclusively in Higgins Hall, students have to have a group already prepared or risk being placed with others to consolidate space. The application process is not yet accessible online, but Residence Life hopes to integrate it by next year.

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