University to offer gender-neutral housing option

A yearlong push to add a dramatically progressive option to student living came to a close Thursday, as the University announced it will offer gender-neutral housing next year.

The ruling, which will allow students of the opposite sex to live together, will take effect in all but three of the University’s residence halls next year. An administration-led review committee reached the decision after months of analysis and debate over whether the option was a smart move.

Students wishing to live with a member of the opposite sex must directly request the option and select a specific roommate to live with.

“The program will be an opt-in process where students will need to know and request a particular roommate,” Peter Konwerski, senior associate vice president and dean of students, said in an e-mail. “The staff in GW Housing Programs has developed an FAQ that will be part of the iHousing process to help students understand the nuances of the program and that will also be made available to students.”

The movement, which gained steam in January behind the advocacy of Allied in Pride President Michael Komo and the support of the Residence Hall Association and Student Association, became an increasingly hot-button issue in the fall and will be a substantial change for the GW community.

Some opponents of the plan, for example, said allowing gender-neutral housing would cause problems if heterosexual couples decided to live together.

Input gathered by the University’s review committee indicated that students don’t want the new option to be used in that way, Konwerski said. He added he doesn’t think many couples will decide to live together.

“Students in their testimony were very clear that they, by and large, did not want to engage in that situation where we would be promoting couples-living,” Konwerski said.

The option is available at more than 50 other universities nationwide – including all but one of the Ivy League schools – and its growth has widely been credited to a recent vocal movement on behalf of supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“I’m proud that the University is making a progressive step to offer housing opportunities to all students,” Komo said. “Everyone [in Allied in Pride] was beyond elated to see this project come to fruition.”

Komo said he expects the participation in both the LGBT and heterosexual communities to be low next year, if GW’s implementation reflects the nationwide trend. Komo said that participation rates at universities with this option are generally 1 to 2 percent during the first year.

“Whether 200 students or 10 students participate, what matters is that those who are uncomfortable in other situations are given this opportunity,” Komo said.

Konwerski said the review committee welcomed an array of opinions, “including cultural, religious and political student organizations,” to discuss the decision.

“I think that many of the members of our Review Committee were moved by the student testimony as well as generally positive input we received from parents and alumni who also provided testimony and input on the issue,” he said.

One group that was vocal against the option over the past year said it was not invited to testify before the committee, but said it will speak out against the provision during the upcoming semester.

“I think this program is too new across the country to say that it will be successful here, there are no concrete numbers,” Giovanni Tomasi, the vice president of the GW Young America’s Foundation, said. “We think it’s poor for the University.”

Tomasi said offering the option to freshmen could be potentially destructive.

“Anyone who’s gone through freshman year, yes, they’re 18 years old and adults, but doing this the first time they live in a residence hall with a roommate, it’ll open up even more problems and difficulties,” Tomasi said.

Sophomore Nick Santangelo said he will take advantage of the policy next year.

“[It] allows for a more comfortable living situation,” said Santangelo, who plans to live with his friend Sara Schlosser next year.

The option will not be available for students living in Merriweather Hall, 2109 F Street and Strong Hall, which are designated as female-only living options.

Lauren French and Amy Rhodin contributed to this report.

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