The College is taking the first steps towards implementing a new housing policy which would allow students of different genders to room together throughout North Campus. SGA Secretary and junior Marlena Weiss will introduce the gender-neutral housing legislation to the SGA on April 15, and is using the issue as a part of her platform in her bid for SGA President.
“Our current philosophy supports students moving developmentally through various types of housing which increases decision-making and responsibility throughout their four years,” said Kelly Smolinsky, Assistant Director of Residence Life. “Therefore, it’s probably more in line with our philosophy and student development theory to give upper-class students this choice.”
“I feel like with the dorms it’s more of a complicated issue. And it’s just you and your roommate and you don’t really know the rest of the hall,” said Weiss.
Weiss got the idea from a friend who attends Wheaton College in Illinois, where gender-neutral housing was recently implemented. Weiss went to talk with Residence Life about the possibility of altering College housing policy and, so far, everyone has been receptive to the idea.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I like the idea of the increased flexibility for students, and I think that it moves the institution toward a greater recognition of the diversity in our student population, since it involves less labeling and more treating students like adults who can make informed choices,” said Smolinsky.
“St. Mary’s has set a precedent of giving its students a lot of privileges and I think this is something we can deal with,” said Weiss.
If gender-neutral housing were implemented, students would still have the option of same-sex housing.
“My understanding is that what we want to do is provide students more options,” said senior Justin Perry, SGA President. “That’s our big goal. A lot of people support gender-neutral housing that don’t want to actually participate in it. We want to provide more options and open up more opportunities for students to have a learning environment of their choice.”
Many of the College’s peer institutions already have gender-neutral housing policies in place. “[At the SGA meeting] I’ll be showing them the research that I’ve done about policies at other schools,” said Smolinsky. “So far, I’ve found about 35 other institutions that have some form of gender-neutral housing.”
Student opinion has been mixed but mostly positive. Students in general seemed supportive of the potential policy, though most said they did not want to actually live in gender-neutral housing.
“The first thing everyone always says is that boyfriends and girlfriends can live together and they’re going to break up and it’s going to be terrible. I think it’s a very heteronormative way of thinking,” said Weiss. In addition, according to the 2009-2010 “To the Point” handbook, cohabitation is prohibited.
“I kind of have two feelings,” said Perry. “I think that people in a relationship don’t necessarily desire to live with each other. I know plenty of couples who don’t live in the same houses… I also know that in the apartments and the townhouses it’s entirely possible for students to live with their partner if they chose to do so. If in the “real world” you choose to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend, it requires an investigation into the strength of the relationship.”
“I understand that however open-minded we want to be about this kind of thing, in practice it would probably be kind of difficult or awkward,” said sophomore Johanna Galat, co-president of FUSE. “But I think if more people started doing it would become less awkward–it’s not that it’s inherently uncomfortable, it’s just not something we’re used to. I absolutely think we could get used to it.”