Genesee Hall to try out gender-neutral housing

As a result of student interest and request, gender-neutral housing will be available in Genesee Hall for returning students making their housing selection for the 2009-10 school year.

The gender-neutral environment in the suite-style residence hall will apply to bathrooms, common areas and individual bedrooms. While the Saratoga townhouses have always been available to mixed-gendered groups of students, each occupant has their own room. The option is only intended for returning students and will not be applied to freshmen in the pool of random roommate assignments.

According to Celia Easton, dean of residential living, the instatement of gender-neutral housing has two primary goals: To provide a living space for friends to share regardless of gender and to adequately accommodate students whose gender identity does not correspond with a conventional label.

This new living arrangement is a one-year pilot project that will be evaluated at the end of the fall 2009 semester. At this time, a decision will be made whether or not to continue through the 2010-11 school year.

Different sexes sharing a conventional two-person dorm room will be a new feature to the Geneseo campus, one that has been implemented recently at various other colleges and universities. Co-ed living has been an ongoing process, beginning with the integration of sexes in the same residence hall, followed by mixed gendered floors, and now suites and rooms will bring the sexes closer than ever.

Easton said that the new housing style is the result of several of Geneseo's transgender students approaching administration about their quality of life in a residence hall. According to Easton, these students often do not find the current halls suitable to their needs. Easton said she hopes the new hall will provide for students "whose needs are different and to those who are mature enough to handle a non-conventional roommate."

The current housing form, which requires all incoming freshmen, even those who may not match a socially-defined gender or biological distinction, to identify themselves as "male" or "female." The new housing project will attempt to resolve that issue.

In general, students seem supportive of the housing project. Freshman Hannah Keehan said she is optimistic about the matter, but surprised that the term "gender-neutral" applies to transgender students.

"I had no idea that was a concern," Keehan said, "but I'm supportive of whatever it takes to make the general student body comfortable on this campus."

The two public forums held on gender-neutral housing allowed students, including representatives from a Christian organization, to express their support or discomfort with the project. No voices of opposition, however, have pursued resistance.

According to Easton, the housing enterprise does not aim to "erase distinctions, but rather learn about these distinctions." Easton continued that she hopes this addition to Geneseo residence life will be helpful to all students and create exposure to different types of individuals - goals she described as necessary parts of the education she wants students at Geneseo to receive.

Easton said she anticipates that this new housing situation will create a residence hall in which "there exists the intimacy of living together in a family way where different types of people can live together." While she does not expect such a transition in one year, Easton said she is confident the project will work over time.