Housing goes gender neutral at UW-Superior

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Senior Sara Mathias and her boyfriend, Benjamin Olson, are both attending the University of Wisconsin – Superior this fall and have been considering the possibility of living together during college.

They may very well be able to do so, because UWS is considering the possibility of changing it's current same-sex roommate policy.

College sophomore Emily Johnson is the assistant hall manager of Ross and Hawkes Hall. She said she felt the gender neutral housing would create more inclusive environment in the residence halls.

“If we run with the idea, it will allow students the opportunity to choose their roommate without gender stipulations,” Johnson said.

Mathias said that she would be more likely to live on campus if there were gender neutral individual rooms, because it would allow her the opportunity to live with her boyfriend, or even a male friend if she did not have a female friend who was attending the same school.

“It would appeal to a lot of people because they could room with who they’re comfortable with regardless of gender,” Mathias said.

Currently all of the residence halls at UWS are completely co-ed except Curran-McNeill and Ostrander. Curran-McNeill is co-ed on individual floors, but its bathrooms are not. Ostrander is the only building that is gender specific on the individual floors and bathrooms.

Assistant Director of Residence Life, Mickey Fitch said that the gender neutral housing would not be hall specific. Students interested in the special housing would have to sign an additional contract beyond the regular one indicating who their roommate choice is.

The students would be placed wherever they wanted to live, despite their roommate choices, the only exception being the first year halls, Curran-Mcneill and Ostrander.

Fitch said the idea actually came from student interest. She said that many students have asked to be able to have opposite gender friends, family members, or partners to be able to live with them.

“We wanted to be able to offer the option for a gender free housing situation to meet what some of our students were asking for,” Fitch said.

However, it’s still in its rough stages, so it may not be ready for the incoming freshman.

“I don’t see it being ready for the fall of 2014, but then again crazier stuff has happened in a shorter amount of time, so I suppose we’ll have to just wait and see,” Johnson

The Residence Life staff has completed their research, and the next steps are to put together a proposal for consideration through the normal university channels, including both student and administrative processes.

Johnson believes that everything new always has pros and cons, but if this is executed correctly “it can be done successfully for both the residents and the department.”

Superior High School Alumna, Makayla Renoos is currently attending UWS, and finds herself excited by the possible implications this decision could have on her life.

“It would impact me personally, as I spend the majority of my time in my boyfriend’s room anyways. I sleep there most nights even. It would be so much more convenient for couples that are long term to be able just to live together,” Renoos said.

Renoos’s situation is quite common. Being friends with Renoos and aware of her situation, Mathias feels like it would be significantly more efficient for UWS if they simply let the two of them live together.

Renoos explained that having a couple split between two rooms, like she and her boyfriend are, is not efficient for UWS, as she is often in his dorm, which allows her roommate to get the privacy of a single room, while only paying for a double.

Senior Erica Middlesteadt is not going to UWS, but says if she were, she would definitely choose to dorm in the gender specific building because she has many concerns about the complications of gender neutral housing.

“I personally believe that rooming a gender specific floor would allow me to focus better and would provide fewer distractions. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed. It’s simply not for me,” Middlesteadt said.

The reason that Middlesteadt feels that she’d likely find herself opting out of gender neutral housing is for the potential issues that could accompany living next to a couple.

“There would likely be more drama because now there’s a greater chance of relationships becoming intimate,” Middlesteadt said. “Your focus in college should not be on your relationship with your significant other.”

When addressing concerns such as the possibility of increased sexual activities and pregnancy Johnson said “I personally think that if the residents want to have sex they will regardless of their living situation in the halls.”

She also said that they would continue to tackle issues such as pregnancy by promoting safe sex, but that all the residents “are adults and have to take responsibility for their lives and actions.”

Overall, Johnson says that their department will continue to strive to make the residence halls “a safe and welcoming environment for all living there.”

Editors Note: BreeAnna is a student at Superior High School who writes for the Spartan Spin. Her article is being published in collaboration with LakeVoice News.

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