Forum discusses proposal for gender neutral housing

Geneseo is considering the implementation of a pilot program for beginning fall 2009 that would allow students to select housing free of gender constraints.

On Oct. 21 at 7 p.m., students and resident assistants met in Onondaga Hall in the first of two open forums to discuss the possibility of gender neutral housing.

Just over three dozen people attended the discussion session to explore the issue further. Lindsey Wiltse, a junior English major who is currently an RA in Onondaga, spearheaded the initiative and hosted the forum.

"The point of this is to raise a provocative question and to get people talking about the issue," said Wiltse. "We want and need student input in to this proposal."

The base proposal as of now would call for the suites in Genesee Hall to become gender neutral, which means that students would be allowed to live within a single suite and possibly within the same room regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Currently, the only place on campus where males and females live together is the Saratoga Townhouses, which contains single rooms, not doubles. Freshmen and transfers would not be placed in the hall unless they specifically requested it.

One of the main issues impacting the proposal is the idea of transgendered students. According to some, the new form of housing would provide transgendered students with a living situation in which they can be comfortable. Other students expressed concerns over whether transgendered students should receive priority during housing selection versus those who were not transgendered but still wanted to live in the hall.

Another issue that received a great deal of discussion was whether allowing opposite sex suitemates or roommates would cause a new host of issues for RAs to handle. Ben Delozier, resident director of Onondaga Hall disagreed.

"I don't see it as an issue," he said. "Perhaps there would be new challenges, but I think that's for the better. Change is a part of life."

Junior Kai Davies was one of the main proponents of the plan and expressed a desire to see it spread to the whole campus.

"I think the best possible outcome would be to start it in Genesee Hall and have it spread to the new buildings as they open while still having options for those who aren't comfortable with the idea of living in a gender neutral hall."

Dean of Residential Living Celia Easton is a proponent of the plan, calling it, "a service not only to those who may not feel comfortable with those of the same sex, but also a service to students who have friendships with people of both genders."

She said that the idea for the program grew out of concerns by the Pride Alliance for transgendered students who were uncomfortable in gender segregated rooms. The Pride Alliance approached Residence Life several years ago searching for a solution.

Easton said that if the proposal has enough student support then she will pass it on to Robert Bonfiglio, vice president for Student and Campus Life. Bonfiglio would then decide whether to make a case for the proposal to President Dahl.

According to Wiltse, this would be one of the first programs of its kind in the SUNY system. As of now, only SUNY Purchase currently offers gender neutral housing. In many private universities, however, there is a major push for similar programs. According to an article published in April by the Boston Globe, more than 30 campuses across the nation have some sort of gender neutral housing, with more than half created within the past two years.

An additional forum, to be held at 7 p.m. in Jones Hall Nov. 5, will continue the discussion. All students are welcome to contribute their input.