Residence halls to offer gender-neutral roommate option
The University for the first time next year will allow men to live with women under certain conditions in three on-campus residence halls.
Demarest Hall on the College Avenue campus, New Gibbons on Douglass campus and Rockoff Hall in downtown New Brunswick will allow those who receive a lottery assignment to live there the option to live with another of the opposite legal gender, said Joan Carbone, executive director of Residence Life.
Students must choose their roommate if they select the gender-neutral housing option, she said.
"We will not place students together who don't know each other of different genders. It has to be someone you choose," Carbone said.
Students can also apply to Demarest or New Gibbons' special interest housing and if accepted, elect the gender-neutral housing option, she said. But these rooms will not be set aside for anyone male or female wishing to live together without the given housing assignment or acceptance into the programs.
School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Nina Macapinlac will be residing with her friend Philip Lu, also a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, next year in Demarest.
"Phil and I were really good friends before so I'm completely fine with this," she said, adding that her parents also did not mind.
As an anthropology major, Macapinlac applied for the Cultural Studies special interest housing option in Demarest and became intrigued when she saw the option to live with a male on the program application.
"I was curious, but I didn't know I was going to pursue it because I didn't know who I was going to live with," she said.
When Lu told her he was having difficulty finding housing for next year, they decided to room together.
"Now that there's gender-neutral housing, friends that are the opposite sex can room together," Macapinlac said. "It was just a really convenient situation."
The program next year will be conducted in only three residence halls as a pilot to see if this change is successful and one the University will continue, Carbone said.
One potential issue stems from Residence Life's requirement to fill every space at the University. If a student in gender-neutral housing drops out of his or her room, it makes it more difficult to replace that void, she said.
"The way the agreement will be is if your roommate drops out and you can't find another, we will place someone in there of your legal gender," Carbone said.
In Demarest and New Gibbons, the gender-neutral housing will be clustered within the rest of the residence hall because these floors will have gender-neutral restrooms as well. Some students may not feel comfortable with gender-neutral restrooms, she said. In Rockoff, these rooms will be mixed with the legal gender-assigned rooms.
The change originated from those in the University's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community, who sat down with Carbone through many hours of meetings.
"They gave me all of the reasons why it was necessary for their community and why they felt it was important for them," she said.
The change could be beneficial for LGBTQ students who may not feel comfortable with the traditional legal-sex room assignments, said Jenny Kurtz, acting director of the Center for Social Justice.
The change also aligns with what other universities are doing, she said. Hundreds around the nation have already adopted this housing environment successfully.
Carbone said gender-neutral housing could eliminate an LGBTQ student's fear of a randomly assigned roommate not accepting them.
"There are a lot of issues perhaps we don't think about for the average student, but for the LGBTQ community and particularly the transgender community, it's a huge issue," she said.
School of Arts and Sciences senior Aaron Lee was one student who advocated for gender-neutral housing with Residence Life in the past.
"I think it's really great that we're going to have it, and it will be available for kids next year," Lee said.
Especially in light of Tyler Clementi's suicide last semester — which occurred shortly after the first-year student's roommate allegedly filmed his encounter with another male without his knowledge — Lee said this change is important to ensuring future LGBTQ students feel more comfortable living on campus.
"I just think it's really awesome that it's going to be an option for people living there … I bet it's not just going to be a pilot program," Lee said.
Kurtz thinks the new policy is a good start but said it remains to be seen whether it will expand or not.
"What we have to do is see what are the evolving needs, see what folks are asking for and then arise to meet those needs," Kurtz said.