Gender-neutral housing deemed success by ORL

by Andrew Wells | 11/30/07 3:11am

As the first-ever term of gender-neutral housing at Dartmouth comes to a close, the Office of Residential Life has begun to look back at its newly instituted gender-neutral housing program floor and, based on positive feedback, does not foresee a need to make any significant changes in the coming terms.

Out of the 32 students who applied for this special housing, 16 students and one undergraduate advisor were eventually chosen because they showed an active interest in participating in the model of a shared community which would hold programs and dinners focused on discussing gender-related issues.

Assistant Dean of Student Life and advisor to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender students Pam Misener has taken the position as lead advisor for the students living on the floor, and attends the floor's weekly Sunday dinners.

"We really wanted the residents to have a chance to be engaged in the decisions about how we would organize ourselves, so it took a little longer to really hit a rhythm," Misener said. "But once we got there, it has been amazing. Because we made the investment to work to find out what students really want to do, in the long term it will serve us really well."

The floor is comprised of one five-room suite, one three-room suite, and four two-room doubles, along with a single room for the current UGA, Jon Hopper '08. Although the program was geared towards those personally facing gender-identity issues, anyone who showed an interest in exploring this topic was eligible for a spot.

"I'm a straight female, so I personally haven't had gender identity questions about myself," said Elizabeth Bruyere '10, a resident of the floor. "Not only did I get to live with my friend, but this provided another outlet for me to learn about gender-identity issues."

Hopper, who has been a UGA for upperclassmen floors in the past, will continue to serve as the gender-neutral floor's UGA for the remainder of the year and said he has found his current experience to be rewarding.

"It is a more cohesive community than I've dealt with in the past, everyone has a very friendly demeanor at all times," Hopper said. "They've also been better behaved. The worst incident was that someone left a pumpkin out too long and it got rotten."

Although this is the first year gender- neutral housing has been available on campus in general, including two-room doubles, suites and apartments, and the responses so far have been positive.

"There has been no negative feedback from any students, faculty, alumni or the Board of Trustees," said Murray MacDonald, associate director of Undergraduate Housing. "I haven't heard one negative word about it."

MacDonald also mentioned that he has received multiple phone calls from other schools interested in instating similar policies.

In addition to the program floor, students can choose gender-neutral co-ed apartments or suites during room draw. However, not all of the designated gender-neutral options are occupied now by mixed-gender groups.

"We can't force anyone to make these rooms mixed gender, that would defeat the whole purpose of gender-neutral housing," Hopper said. "Eventually, gender-neutral housing should be so widely available that anyone looking to live in this type of environment could get a room."

In total, 52 apartments and suites were offered at room draw, and 13 of these were occupied by mixed gender groups, according to Rachael Class-Giguere, director of undergraduate housing.

There are no concrete plans to expand gender-neutral suites and apartments, although Class-Giguere said traditional two-room doubles may be offered as gender neutral as well. Currently, only two-room doubles with private, lockable bedrooms are available for the program.