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Hot on Campus | November 20, 2012

UNC trustees approve gender-neutral housing

Dorm life

Students of the opposite sex will be able to share suites and on-campus apartments starting next fall

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Male and female students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be able to live together in on-campus dorms starting next fall. The school's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the option for gender-neutral housing on Thursday, after a student-led lobbying effort.

Under the new housing plan, students must choose roommates of the same sex but can share suites or on-campus apartments with students of the opposite sex.

The school's chancellor, Holden Thorp, vetoed the same proposal in February, saying university stakeholders were not convinced the housing option was necessary. In September, UNC junior Kevin Blaybren headed a rejuvenated campaign to sway Thorp and the Board in favor of the proposal. The campaign had the support of campus groups like Young Democrats, the Black Student Movement, the LGBTQ Center and the provost's committee for LGBTQ life. It asked students to show their support by sending postcards and videos to the Board of Trustees. The campaign used a housing program at UNC-Greensboro that includes coed bathrooms as an example of success for gender-neutral housing.

The nationwide push for gender-neutral housing picked up speed in 2010 and now includes 99 public and private colleges, according to the LBGTQ Center at UNC. Schools that have some form of gender-neutral housing include Columbia University, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the College of William and Mary and the University of Michigan.

Advocates for housing that allows men and women to live together describe it as an issue of gender equality. They say it helps promote the safety of gay, bisexual and transgendered students, although on-campus crime statistics don't support the claim (see previous WORLD on Campus report).

While the campus crime database for UNC shows a scant record of sexually oriented hate crimes and a significantly larger count of rapes, supporters of gender-neutral housing say the new option will improve safety for UNC students, and bring the school closer to full inclusivity and acceptance of all lifestyles.

"Gender-neutral housing is an important project that is vital to protecting the safety of our students," Thorp said in a statement to the board.

The proposal appears to have had little vocal opposition on campus. Out of a handful of letters about it published in student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel during the last three months, only two offered criticism: "There are fundamental differences between men and women, and a sense of appropriateness that comes with these differences should be respected," freshman Addie McElwee wrote.

UNC Chapel Hill sophomore Chris McCue, who pitches for the school's baseball team, says he isn't vehemently opposed to the new housing option, but isn't totally in favor of it either. He told WORLD on Campus gender-neutral housing is unnecessary because UNC students are largely friendly toward gay students.

"I don't really think it's necessary for students to live with opposite genders," said McCue. "I guess it would be kind of ideal if you want to live with your girlfriend or boyfriend, but at the same time I don't really think it's going to affect life on campus."