Housing and Dining decided this semester to expand gender-neutral housing options for the 2010-2011 academic year to include coed rooms in AU-rented Berkshire Apartments, according to Housing and Dining Assistant Director of Operations Jennifer Alvarez.
In addition to the Berkshires, students are able to select coed rooms and suites in Nebraska Hall and Centennial Hall, a policy that has been in effect since the 2009-2010 academic year.
“We are committed to being responsive to the needs of the AU community and are keeping current on how other campuses are piloting and implementing new programs and options,” Alvarez said.
AU’s inclusion of gender-neutral living options on campus follows a recent trend of colleges across the country. Stanford, Cornell, the University of Michigan, Wesleyan and Haverford are among 50 other schools now offering coed rooms, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Despite the wider offerings for coed housing, some AU students are still choosing same-sex living situations. The current number of students at AU who choose coed suites and apartments is very low, according to Alvarez.
But Housing and Dining will still “spend significant time understanding current demands and projecting future needs so that we can be responsive to the dimensions and needs of each student living in the residence halls,” Alvarez said.
Some students living in coed housing next semester see advantages to the new option.
“I believe it is not the gender, but rather the personalities, that make a successful group of roommates,” Abby Matousek said, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs. Moustek will be living in an AU-rented apartment in the Berkshire apartments with Leslie Kodet, a junior in SPA, and Phil Cardarella, a sophomore in SPA, next semester.
Kodet agreed that coed living options are more inclusive for all.
“Friends should not be restricted from living together because of a difference of gender,” Kodet said.
Some students said they feel that coed living situations are better than single-sex environments. Katlyn Miller, a 2008 AU graduate, lived in a coed suite in Nebraska Hall her senior year and said she liked having the experience of living in a coed environment.
The discussion on gender-neutral housing at AU first arose through a 2007 Student Government Senate Bill sponsored by AU alumna Jillian Rubino, who created and sponsored several bills dealing with transgender issues during her time in the Senate. Rubino’s 2007 bill advocated for the inclusion of trans-gender rights in housing policies, The Eagle previously reported.
Eventually, the bill included coed housing options for all students, not just those in the AU GLBTA community. Both Student Government and Housing and Dining realized the necessity of offering gender-neutral living options, specifically to underclassmen because they are more likely to live on campus, according to Alvarez.
Despite the bill’s passage in 2007, Housing and Dining did not offer coed options until the 2009-2010 academic year. The need to get approval from senior administration officials, combined with lengthy process of integrating the idea into Housing and Dining policy, caused the delay, according to Housing and Dining.
In the 2009-2010 year, a Residential Community Cluster on Centennial 5 allowed students in the GLBTA community to live in coed suites and use gender-neutral public bathrooms. Though the same RCC did not re-apply for the fall 2010 semester, a new community cluster on gender identity and sexual orientation will exist next fall, according to Alvarez.
Despite the enthusiasm some students had for coed suites and apartments, others, especially freshmen and sophomores, were more hesitant to embrace the idea of coed rooms in their housing selections for the 2010-2011 year, according to Alvarez.
“Realistically, it may be that the small space of a shared room is just too tight to handle a coed situation,” Miller said. “There are certain privacy and personal space issues that are harder to maneuver when sharing a single room with a coed partner.”
Coed rooms are especially complicated when romantic couples room together, Kodet said.
“[But] same-sex couples can live together and go through these situations though, and the university doesn’t blink twice,” she said.
The university plans to explore more opportunities for gender-neutral housing in the coming years, according to Alvarez.
“There are many dimensions that determine the success of a person’s living environment, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these challenges,” she said.