Sides taken on gender-neutral housing debate
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 14:10
In spring of 2010, Roosevelt University’s Student Government Association passed a gender-neutral housing resolution.
Last week, a rewritten version of the resolution was passed by SGA once more.
What happened between 2010 and now to implement the resolution?
“Nothing,” RU Proud President Lucas Barnhill said. “I worked with [SGA Senator] Jessica Theisen. We passed it and took it to the head of housing, at the time. She didn’t do much with it. She was really afraid of the idea.”
The head of the Office of Residence Life in 2010 was Angela Ryan. She is currently director of graduate admission. Ryan said she worked with Brenden Carlson, office assistant for the Office of Residence Life in summer of 2011, when it was passed to take steps to implement the resolution.
“It wasn’t approved by the university,” Ryan said. “I’m surprised you’re coming to me now. A lot of work has been done. It’s unfortunate students are speaking out about this without knowing what’s happened. They’re bashing not just the administration but their own peers. There’s been a lot of work on [GNH] It’s been documented. This is a shot at what [Carlson’s] done.”
According to Carlson, he worked with Ryan to research other universities’ GNH programs and had phone conferences with those universities regarding their physical set-ups, application processes and definitions of GNH they used.
“It was a lot of work,” he said. “But Angela and I showed great passion and motivation to create something very sound. This type of housing is not something that comes with a plan B. You have to have a solid plan A, or it just won’t work.”
“I don’t really know what they did,” Barnhill said. “All they did was look at what other universities did with gender-neutral housing a year after we passed the resolution. I thought there would have been more done than that by then.”
Carlson said he is completely on board for implementing GNH but understands the need for a necessary process to provide adequate support and resources. He added that he is patient and understanding.
“It’s not just about the physical layout of this space,” he said. “It’s really about educating, creating an awareness and gaining support to make sure everyone is on the same page with what GNH stands for and what it will offer students attending Roosevelt.”
“I think we need to focus on moving forward,” Ryan said. “The students don’t even know what they want. They have no clue what GNH means. It matters what the definition is to Roosevelt, as a whole. Co-ed bedrooms is not GNH. That seems to be the students’ definition. That’s unfortunate that’s what it’s thought of. If that’s what they want, we need to look into co-ed bedrooms. If they want GNH, that’s a different entity.”
Bridget Collier was hired this fall as assistant vice president for the Office of Residence Life. She is currently working with this resolution and has helped students start a GNH committee.
“We have formed a GNH task force that includes students, faculty, staff and University Center representatives to explore the possibility of implementing GNH and to put together a proposal for university leadership to review and approve,” she said. “We are currently reviewing GNH policies at other institutions to see what best practices are in place and will work to define gender neutral specifically for the Roosevelt community.”
The committee meets every other Wednesday. The first meeting was last Wednesday. The next will be Oct. 31 at 10 a.m. in the 14th-floor recreation room in the Wabash Building.
“The committee allows students to learn about how the process will work at Roosevelt,” Barnhill said. “By the end of the semester, we’ll have everything set in stone, including what the room setups will look like, how room requests will go and what floors and rooms will be designated as gender neutral.”
The committee will submit a final GNH proposal to President Charles Middleton at the end of the semester. If approved, it will be finalized by February and become an option for students beginning Fall 2013, according to Barnhill.
“Students should get involved since social justice is part of our university’s mission,” Barnhill said. “This is a social justice issue, and I think that it’s a big step forward to show that we care about equality on campus. The way housing’s set up now is not equal. It’s based on binary genders, male and female, and not everyone can apply to that. It’s important to offer alternatives.”
“While I appreciate the efforts of SGA to support an inclusive environment, I am disappointed that neither I nor any member of my Residence Life staff were invited to participate in or attend the SGA meeting [last] Tuesday where they discussed this resolution,” Collier said. “There needs to be an intentional and comprehensive review of how to implement this initiative, as this has implications for the Residence Life program, our RA team and our community.”
According to Barnhill, the resolution was changed this year because the language the original resolution was written in was too gender binary.
“We found that in the first document we made, we talked too much about gender in the language, and it kind of was contradictory,” he said.
“From a Residence Life perspective, we need to review every angle, including how to design assignment processes, ensure student safety, consider the impact and needs on the physical spaces and develop comprehensive community education strategies, just to name a few,” Collier said.