Students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland no longer have to consider gender when selecting a roommate under a new open-housing policy that allows students of the opposite sex to live together in the same room.
The open-housing policy was designed to provide better housing arrangements for students who do not identify with their birth sex or are uncomfortable living with students of the same gender, said Joanne Goldwater, director of residence life and associate dean of students.
The policy “is going to ensure that our students have a safe space to live,” Goldwater said.
Students at the public liberal arts school in Southern Maryland must opt into the program, and students will not be randomly assigned an opposite-sex roommate without their consent. The school has about 1,800 students for the fall 2013 semester.
There are currently 18 students living on the college’s open-housing floor in Prince George Hall, but only two students of the opposite sex are living together, Goldwater said.
Hannah Felperin, 20, a philosophy major with a minor in women, gender and sexuality studies, is the only woman in Prince George Hall currently living with a male student. The pair live in a traditional dorm room with two beds.
Felperin chose the open housing program last spring and was randomly assigned a male roommate who had also opted into the program.
“I firmly believe in gender neutrality and not needing to separate by physical sex,” Felperin said.
The 16 other students in the hallways have same-sex roommates, but all of the occupants share one gender-neutral bathroom with two showers, two stalls and urinals, which now have dividers. Other floors at St. Mary’s College of Maryland also can chose to make their bathrooms gender-neutral.
Felperin said she anticipated more of the rooms would include mixed-gender roommates, but she said the concept has benefits even with few people adopting the change. “It’s interesting, because [it] has allowed other students to look at the hallway as normal,” Felperin said.
Felperin said that she and her roommate have bonded over being “hard-core feminists,” but they have never formally discussed their genders or sexualities, Felperin said. “We just understood that it’s okay to live together,” she said.
Any student — including incoming freshmen — can choose to live with an opposite-sex roommate. Alex Conrad, 19, who identifies as gay, said the open-housing policy played heavily into his decision to attend the school “It’s very much keeping up with the times,” Conrad said.
The school’s administration looked into the logistics of implementing a gender-blind housing policy in 2010, Goldwater said. The policy was held up during the fall semester in 2011, when the school dealt with mold in two halls, but was later approved by the college’s presidential cabinet during the past academic year.
The presidential cabinet included former president Joseph Urgo — who asked the board not to renew his contract in June — and Patricia Goldsmith, the school’s former vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid.
The college has received no negative pushback from parents, teachers or students since the policy was enacted, Goldwater said.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland based its open housing policy on several other gender-blind housing policies, including those at American, Brown and Brandeis universities, Goldwater said.