An inclination for gender-neutral housing

Stephen McGarvey

Recently, the University group StandOut proposed a gender-neutral approach to housing, where males and females could opt to be placed with students of the opposite gender. The group’s favored policy would dedicate a wing to students who chose this option. When listening to the group’s rhetoric, it is easy to construe the issue as purely one-dimensional and discredit it entirely. However, there actually are many practical benefits to mixed-gender housing.

Being a Longhorn is a proud tradition in many families. There are numbers of brothers and sisters who come to UT, and some would like to live together. Currently, they have to get an apartment off-campus. But in doing so, they may miss out on the social experience and friendships that dorms foster.

Also, there are a fair number of married students at UT. It seems unfortunate that these students are forced to choose between living in the dorms and living together. Married students are currently relegated to off-campus apartments that are far from the University. Even if UT chooses not to adopt the policy as a whole, it seems extreme that the University won’t even understand at least these cases.

Finally, there is the gender-equality uproar from the LGBT community. This is the only argument provided by the StandOut group, and it’s certainly an odd one. Essentially, they allege students who either identify with the opposite gender, identify with no gender or aren’t comfortable with members of the same sex should be able to live with those of the opposite. Limiting students to the status quo limits their ability to make that choice for themselves. UT shouldn’t be the one to make it for them.

Opponents of the proposal believe that it will be used by couples looking to more easily room with their boyfriend and girlfriend, and this is probably the case. But ultimately, what does it matter? In a University that gives out three free condoms per day in the Student Services Building, concerns for promiscuity obviously aren’t at the top of its list. The only legitimate concern that could arise from this would be an increase in room change requests when couples break up. However, there is always a steady stream of same-sex students looking for roommate transfers throughout the year, and it’s doubtful that the rates would be much higher than they already are. In fact, this could be beneficial; with more students requesting room changes, all students can have a larger selection of new roommates to choose from.

UT advertises itself as a forward-thinking university and a pioneer of social issues and equality. If this policy were adopted, it would make many students’ lives easier and would cost nothing to UT to implement. Rice University and some Ivy League schools have mixed gender dorm policies, and while “We should do it because the other guys are doing it” is never an effective argument — despite what UT sometimes likes us to believe — this does give us some valuable insight. Similar policies are in place at other schools, and, more importantly, similar policies have worked for other schools. Any resulting problems must not be significant or else the programs would not still be in place.

A gender-neutral dorm policy is a good idea, but the StandOut proposal isn’t perfect. Specifically, creating a dedicated gender-neutral wing is a where the plan falls short. Rather, related, married and LGBT students should be integrated into the other dorms using the same housing procedures as everyone else. After all, isn’t integration and acceptance what the LGBT community is all about?

McGarvey is a business honors freshman.