Updated: April 28, 2014 at 2:31 p.m.
When advocates pushed for the University to become one of the first to adopt gender-neutral housing four years ago, administrators didn’t expect it to grow into one of the most popular in the country.
Next year will mark a 22 percent increase in the number of students living with the opposite sex. Four years after campus leaders heralded the option as a step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, it’s also become an increasingly popular option among straight students.
About 200 students will live in gender-neutral housing in the fall, far more than GW Housing director Seth Weinshel said he expected the option launched in 2010.
He said students have praised the program in annual surveys, which ask about students’ sexual orientations and their parents’ attitudes toward their participation.
“Our results tend to be that people are generally happy and enjoying the experience,” Weinshel said. “We will continue to assess that program because it’s important to continue to have that data back up why we continue to do gender-neutral housing.”
When the LGBT student organization Allied in Pride lobbied for gender-neutral housing options four years ago, campus officials and students said they would support the program because it allows students to pick roommates regardless of gender.
While gender-neutral housing has expanded at GW, colleges such as Northwestern University and the University of North Carolina have scaled back or canceled similar programs.
Northwestern decided to reallocate its 144 rooms designated for gender-neutral housing after only 50 students signed up this year, while UNC saw just four students express interest.
More liberal campuses, such as New York University, have seen programs grow even faster than GW. About 400 NYU students live in gender-neutral housing, which is about 4 percent of the on-campus undergraduate population.
Though the program has become more popular at GW, students say they’ve still had to fight off misperceptions about the program.
When freshman John Griffiths tells friends that he will live with three female students next year, he said he often has to clarify that the program is also for straight students.
“We didn’t think about it being gender-neutral housing that much. It was more that these people are my friends and that’s who I want to live with,” Griffiths said.
Sophomore Marissa Kardon Weber said though gender-neutral housing allowed her to live with her male friend in JBKO Hall this year, she constantly has to explain that the two are not dating.
“I’m really looking forward to the day we don’t have to call it gender-neutral housing. It just creates a stigma,” she said. “I feel like we’ll look back on it and be like, ‘Why did we have to draw that division?’”