Gender-neutral housing: Where does McDaniel stand?

Many schools across the country have adopted gender-neutral or gender inclusive housing policies. Photo by Kyle Parks.Many schools across the country have adopted gender-neutral or gender inclusive housing policies. Photo by Kyle Parks.

Across the country, a new type of housing at colleges and universities is gaining popularity.

For most colleges in the U.S., co-ed floors in residence halls—where genders are often split by wings or sections of the floor—are commonplace. Many schools even allow housing where both genders can live in the same suite or apartment.

But what about co-ed rooms?

Co-ed rooms, also known as gender-neutral housing, or gender inclusive housing, have already been a housing option for several years at some universities. In a gender-neutral living situation, two students of different genders can live in the same room.

Already, universities such as Stanford and New York University have implemented policies that allow for different genders to share the same room. Even in Maryland, several schools have added gender-neutral housing as an option for on-campus living. Towson University and Goucher College are among them.

How does McDaniel fit in?

Here on the Hill, talk of gender-neutral housing has not yet been widespread—but that doesn’t mean McDaniel is not ready to have the discussion.

“I know it’s come up [at McDaniel],” says Jose Moreno, director of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion on campus. Even with little current action, though, Moreno strongly believes gender-neutral housing is a possibility here.

“McDaniel does really well in terms of being more inclusive,” he says. One of the goals of gender-neutral housing is to provide a comfortable and friendly housing arrangement for transgender and non-cisgender students.

McDaniel already has all-gender bathrooms in some areas, as well as a preferred name policy, which allows students to choose what name appears on their class rosters and school IDs. Adding gender-neutral housing would only continue this trend.

To implement this change, however, there would need to be a real drive from students.

For Michael Robbins, head of McDaniel’s Office of Residence Life, student action is key. The change is something “students would need to advocate for through SGA,” he says.

Robbins wants students to be serious and knowledgeable about the issue when they take action: “I would want the students to reach out to the other campuses that have done it and try to find out what problems, if any, has it led to.”

And there are certainly potential problems with implementing gender-neutral housing at McDaniel.

Costs of renovating buildings to accommodate a new type of housing arises as a possible issue. Because of building codes that require a certain number of fixtures per bathroom for each gender, Robbins says, new bathrooms would have to be built in residence halls.

These new bathrooms would also take away space previously used for dorm rooms, which would be inefficient considering the large size of this year’s incoming class.

This might pose fewer issues, however, in the school’s independent housing units, such as the North Village apartments, where all genders can use the same bathroom while they live in separate rooms.

Both Robbins and Moreno note parent concern about gender-neutral housing as a possible issue as well. But Robbins makes it clear that this housing option “would never be a mandatory [living arrangement].”

Even with possible setbacks, Moreno sees the benefits gender-neutral housing could bring to the McDaniel community.

“To learn about an opposite gender of yours, it’s good to get a better understanding and to learn more about people,” he says. Gender-neutral housing “can give students the ability to do that better.” Moreno hopes that this kind of living arrangement could “break down barriers” between genders as well, especially in a patriarchal society.

The process of introducing and implementing this policy would not happen over the course of a semester; this kind of change needs a year, or perhaps more, for consultations, presentations, forums and meetings.

But the first step lies with students: if McDaniel undergraduates voice a desire for gender-neutral housing, the school will listen.