U of M’s new gender-neutral housing option great idea

Jodi F. Bullock | Eastern Echo

A gender-neutral restroom sign in Ann Arbor.

Last updated: 02/17/13 11:18pm


It’s not very often a university is commended for being totally inclusive to people who exist outside of the gender binary. But recently, the University of Michigan announced gender-neutral university housing will be an option on their campus in Ann Arbor at the start of the next fall semester.

Gender-neutral housing is a great way to ensure students who identify as intersex have a comfortable place to call home during their college years.

The U of M Housing website explains the new offering as the Gender Inclusive Living Experience, which grants students who identify as transgender and gender non-conforming the ability to choose a roommate of any gender, instead of abiding by the traditional same-sex roommate restrictions.

The voluntary dorm will be located in the East Quadrangle of the campus, which is currently undergoing $116 million in renovations, according to a Jan. 25 AnnArbor.com article.

U of M has always been ahead of the curve in terms of social equality and rights. The Spectrum Center, originally the U of M College of LGBT Affairs, was initially formed as the Michigan chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, a group dedicated to promoting gay rights in the 1970s.

Now, 43 years later, the university introduces the GILE, to create an atmosphere of acceptance and accommodation for people who are uncomfortable being forced into a same-sex living situation.

Transgendered identity is widely misunderstood. Gender non-conformists are usually individuals who don’t feel adequately described under the label of man or woman, regardless of their biology—but the circumstances are diverse.

Think about it: If you understood yourself as a man, but had the physical makeup of a woman, the every day decision of which bathroom to use would become an internal struggle, and your identity would cause you to feel like an outcast.

But the bathrooms of the gender-neutral housing will have unspecified gender, omitting the whole “boy or girl” factor when choosing a toilet.

Does this serve to integrate or to separate? Some might think giving individuals who identify as transgendered special treatment isn’t truly inclusive. However, the core of the decision is to create a safe haven for people who just aren’t comfortable conforming to the gender binary.

Society’s representation of “true” gender is rigid and unyielding—you’re either male or female. This narrow perception of gender certainly tends to create hatred, bred from ignorance to the varying styles of gender identities and how they can be expressed. People with non-conforming gender identities often fall victim to persecution. According to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality of more than 6,000 transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S., 63 percent reported experiencing serious acts of discrimination, including physical or sexual assault and eviction due to bias.

In light of this depressing reality, the new dorms promise to provide not only an environment to encourage true expression, but also safety.

Eastern Michigan University does have some gender-free restrooms, but we could do more as a campus and community. I hope we follow in the footsteps of our university neighbor and create more options for the varying lifestyles of students on our campus.

Published Feb 17, 2013 in Opinions

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