Gender-neutral housing options to open in fall 2016

The University of Miami has specified a plan for its first-ever gender-neutral housing options. The pilot program will be offered in certain suites and apartments in Eaton Residential College and the University Village, according to a statement from Executive Director of Media Relations Elizabeth Amore. President Julio Frenk announced the plan for gender-neutral housing by fall of 2016 on Thursday at a town hall event with students, faculty and community members.

“I think the gender-neutral housing is a first step. It’s a recommendation that we are embracing and taking forward. But I do hope that, in this listening exercise … We will see what other options you feel are necessary. I will fight very, very hard to eliminate any trace of discrimination or any feeling of alienation from our community,” Frenk said in response to a question from junior Morgan Owens.

Gender-neutral housing became a Student Government priority this year, according to Owens, the treasurer of UPride.

Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization focused on developing more LGBT-friendly colleges and universities, lists 197 universities and colleges that already offer gender-inclusive housing, which they describe as “housing in which students can have a roommate of any gender.” UM will be the fifth school in Florida to offer such housing, joining Eckerd College, Ringling College of Art and Design, Stetson University and University of North Florida.

“For this pilot gender-neutral option, we are currently updating our systems so that continuing students who want campus housing in fall 2016 can have the option to live in a gender-neutral suite or apartment, on a space-available basis,” said a statement from the university.

The statement said that other residential facilities could be included as the program is developed. Significant software, policy and process changes are needed to implement the program. The student housing website will be updated once the university has finalized its plans for the program.

As of this time, it is not yet clear how much space will be available when the program is first implemented.

The school is also designing inclusive restrooms for the school’s “public areas” and will continue to work on recommendations made by the 2014 task force on LGBT issues.

“The university is committed to identifying issues that are challenging for transgender students and will continue to work on the recommendations from the 2014 task force on LGBTQ issues,” the statement concluded.

Owens said LGBT students want an on-campus resource center with a paid staff, similar to that of the Toppel Career Center and Multicultural Student Affairs Center. He also mentioned how LGBT students disproportionately use Counseling Center resources more than the rest of the student population.

In recent years, the center has come under scrutiny for reducing the number of visits per student per semester to 15. Having a counseling center with the capacity to help LGBT students without a long wait time is important, Owens said.

“The reality is that any of these things we’re asking for are going to make this campus a better place,” he said. “Campus will be a better place if you have happier classmates.”

Owens and other members of the LGBT community will be meeting with President Frenk on Thursday to discuss a number of concerns facing LGBT students.

Featured image courtesy Flickr user Ted Eytan.