Gender Neutral Housing Approved

Elissa Sanci

gender neutral housing

Amber Crow had just laid down for a nap Feb. 5 when her phone went off across the room. Annoyed, she pulled herself out of bed, figuring the email could have been important. That’s when she received the news that gender neutral housing had been approved at the University of New Haven for the 2015-2016 school year.

“I jumped out of bed, because one of my residents was really, really interested in it and I ran out, screaming her name, saying ‘We got it! We got gender neutral housing! It’s a thing!’” said Crow, who is the Senior Residential Advisor in Bethel Hall.

Crow, who is also president of PRIDE, had been working closely with Caitlin Pereira, the area coordinator of first-year areas in Residential Life, for the past year and half to get gender neutral housing approved at UNH.

Gender neutral housing was Caitlin Pereira’s idea; she proposed her idea to PRIDE and asked if it was something they’d be interested in.

“Because it’s something that impacts our demographic, we really jumped on board to help her out,” said Crow, who, in conjunction with PRIDE, helped bring gender neutral bathrooms to campus Spring 2014.

Pereira, who is currently out on maternity leave, came to UNH last academic year from another university that has gender neutral housing, and it was something she wanted to implement at UNH.

“It’s been a long road,” said Crow. “We’ve been working on this pretty much from the moment Caitlin stepped on campus, about a year and a half ago.”

Gender neutral housing is targeted towards the LGBT population and towards people who identify as a different gender or as no gender—people who are atypical in their gender, Crow said. It’s designed to be targeted for them, but it is open to all students at the University.

“I think that it will be more utilized by the LGBT portion of our campus, because they really are the ones who want it and are looking for it,” Crow said.

Before gender neutral housing was approved, many students, including Crow, felt uncomfortable in their living situations. “I ended up having to live with girls because I had to, not because I wanted to, and that’s not really a good residential community on campus.”

Crow and PRIDE pushed for gender neutral housing so everyone on campus can be comfortable with their living situation.

“The application has no self-identifying part, so you don’t have to disclose why you want it. You can just say you want it, because it’s really no one else’s business,” she explained. “It’s designed to make you feel like you’re not asking for this because you’re different, you’re asking for it because you want it.”

Crow has done a lot for UNH PRIDE and the LGBT community in her four years at UNH.

“I look at these kids and their needs and to be able to fulfill their needs is absolutely incredible and it fulfills my day. Like when I got to call and tell all those people that I knew were so scared about who they were going to live with next year or what they’re going to do because they have no friends of the same gender—just to see their faces light up was amazing,” she said. “I think that it’s amazing that our campus is moving in this direction. I never thought that I would get to be a part of it, let alone see it happen.”

Application & Room Selection Process

To apply for gender neutral housing, students must go to the Residential Life office on the first floor of Bixler Hall to fill out the Gender Neutral Supplemental Housing License Agreement. There are two different forms that have to be filled out; one application with all the roommates names’ and signatures and an oath that states that, because the gender neutral housing option is primarily targeted toward the LGBT community, all roommates must respect each other’s privacy and keep everything that said in the room to themselves.

After these applications are signed, Lauren Veronneau, the assistant director for housing and operations, and Mike Hardej, the area coordinator for upperclassman halls, will hold an informal informational meeting about gender neutral housing with everyone who is interested in it.

At this meeting, Veronneau and Hardej talk to everyone who has signed up for gender neutral housing and give a rundown of what gender neutral housing means and how it works. Students also have a chance at this meeting to let Res Life know what they can do to make the groups most comfortable when placing them in rooms.

Gender neutral housing room selection is much different from “regular” room selection. Groups going for gender neutral housing will not be able to use the lottery system; instead, Res Life places the groups in rooms themselves.

They do this to level the playing field—this way, not one group of people has the upper hand. Although those who are choosing to live in gender neutral rooms are bypassing the lottery system, they don’t get to choose the room they want, something that same-sex groups get to do during their room selection. Rather, it is left up to Veronneau in the Residential Life Office. Veronneau and Hardej place the group based off what they need to make them most comfortable; for instance, if a group composed of three guys and one girl applies for gender neutral housing, Res Life might place the group in a room in Sheffield that has a single and a triple if the girl feels most comfortable with her own room.

They also do this to spread the groups out around campus. Both Res Life and PRIDE don’t want to create one part of campus that is known as the gender neutral portion in order to reduce the opportunities for bullying because the housing is primarily designed for students in the LGBT community.

“This way, no one gets targeted,” Crow said.

Gender neutral is not yet designed for freshmen, but if they want to participate in it, they can contact the Res Life office over the summer to express their want for housing. The office would then make the exception to make the student comfortable.

“Because that’s really what our job is,” Crow said. “To give students a comfortable living space.”

Student reactions

Students are supportive of the change, and few students had requested gender neutral in the past, only to have been turned down.

“I had actually asked Res Life if I would be able to room with some of my guy friends if the girls and guys were in separate rooms but in the same suite, and they said no,” said Danielle Sumoski, a senior graphic design major. “Especially in a college lifestyle, it would have been great to have this opportunity to room with some of my friends I am comfortable with on campus.”

Sumoski said it would have been nice to have this opportunity available to her while she had been selecting rooms in the past.

“It is great to have this option to make others comfortable with who they live with,” she added.

In the future, Res Life would like to move away from the application process and integrate gender neutral housing options with the rest of room selection.

Gender neutral housing forms can be found on the Room Selection Process webpage in a blue sidebar on the right hand side of the screen. Applications are due by Monday, March 2 by 4:30 p.m.