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Gender-neutral housing at GWU 'completely voluntary'

By Jenna Johnson
Friday, December 3, 2010; 1:02 PM

Starting next fall, George Washington University in the District will allow male and female students to live in the same room or suite in nearly all of its residence halls. Dozens of colleges across the country have begun to offer gender-neutral housing, as it is called, but usually the option is available only to upperclassmen or those living in apartment-style halls.

Allied in Pride, a LGBT student organization at GWU that led the effort and has advocated for gender-neutral housing for several years, cheered the Thursday announcement. In a statement, the group said gender-neutral housing "is extremely important to LGBT students, many of whom feel more comfortable living with someone of a different gender. However, this decision is a monumental victory for everyone -- LGBT students and their straight counterparts."

Last academic year, several student organizations endorsed the idea, including the Residence Hall Association and the College Democrats. This spring the student government added its support. The university then convened a committee to study national housing trends and surveyed students, parents and alumni. That committee recommended adding the option.

The program will be "completely voluntary" and will be available in all but three halls, according to a university press release. The university plans to monitor the pilot program over the next three years. And students who opt to have a randomly assigned roommate will continue to be matched with someone of the same sex.

Gender-neutral housing is offered by about 50 colleges and universities, including Stanford University, Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan. Just last month, Columbia University announced a pilot program in several of its upperclassmen halls, according to the Columbia Spectator.

In the Washington area, American University has offered coed rooms in some of its student apartments since last school year, a program that will extend to other halls next year, according to the Eagle. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County offers gender-neutral housing in two apartment-style halls, according to its housing Web site.

Meanwhile, several other colleges in the area are discussing gender-neutral housing, which is also called gender-blind housing.

Last month, the student senate at Georgetown University passed a resolution asking for a discussion about gender-blind housing. A university spokeswoman told the Hoya student newspaper that the university does not plan to alter its housing policy but officials are willing to discuss the topic. The resolution prompted criticism from the Cardinal Newman Society, which often criticizes Georgetown and its policies, according to the student blog Vox Populi.

The student government at St. Mary's College of Maryland has passed a resolution supporting gender-neutral housing, and university officials are currently gauging student feedback, according to the Point News.

At the College of William and Mary, the student assembly continues to revise a plan for gender-neutral housing, but college officials have told student leaders they have no plans to allow opposite-sex students to live together, according to the Flat Hat.

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