Students could have the opportunity to live with people of the opposite gender on campus, maybe as soon as fall semester. UMD has been working on adding gender-inclusive housing on campus for around a year, according to Director of Housing and Residence Life Jeremy Leiferman. The goal is to give students the opportunity to live with people they are comfortable with, as well as promote goal two of UMD’s strategic plan of having a positive and inclusive campus climate.
“I think it fits in with where the university is headed at this point in time,” Leiferman said. “Having this as a housing option really helps achieve (goal two), and helps create a campus climate that may feel more comfortable to students, whether it be their sexual orientation, their gender identity, or just who they are and who they’re friends with and who they’re comfortable with.”
The gender-inclusive housing would affect only the apartments on campus. Currently, students are only allowed to live with same gender students on campus, both in the apartments and the residence halls.
According to Leiferman, the reason it is easier to make the apartments gender-inclusive is because of the bathroom situation compared to the residence halls.
“Part of the advantage there is that the apartments have private bathrooms,” Leiferman said. “We don’t necessarily have to worry about, ‘what do we do with bathroom spaces?’”
Leiferman said that students who choose to live in gender-inclusive housing will come from a wide variety of identities and backgrounds. He used the example of a student who may not identify within the gender binary of male or female.
“Using bathrooms that are designated male or female might be a challenge for them,” Leiferman said. “It might not add to that comfortable living environment or address the inclusive and open climate issues that we’re trying to achieve here.”
The residence halls may eventually become gender-inclusive according to Leiferman, but for now, their focus is on the apartments.
Leiferman said that they are in the process of finalizing their proposal, which must be approved by administration, but he has heard nothing but support from higher-ups, including UMN President Eric Kaler.
“All signs point to positive reviews there,” Leiferman said. “It’s not 100 percent a go yet, but it’s looking good … President Kaler has publicly stated a couple times that he has supported this initiative, so we know we have support throughout the organization, both here on campus and throughout the system.”
According to Campus Pride, 159 colleges and universities offer gender-inclusive housing. Gender-inclusive housing is a relatively new idea in Minnesota, as just three colleges, Augsburg, Carleton and Macalester, offer the option. UMD could become the first public school in Minnesota to offer the option, although Leiferman said Morris and the Twin Cities campuses are both looking into it.
Another part of the proposal indicates that students would have a choice when signing up for housing to list their preferred gender on their application. These students would then be assigned base on their gender. The proposal would add an option next to male and female that would allow students to identify as transgender. However, this would likely only apply to the apartments as well.
“If there was someone who really did want to live in the residence halls, we’d figure out how to make that work for them, given our somewhat gendered structure within the residence halls,” Leiferman said.
Leiferman was quick to point out that gender-inclusive housing is not something that students would be forced into. Rather, it provides another option for students who would feel more comfortable living with members of the opposite gender.
“If a student wanted to live in a single gender space, that will still be an option for them,” Leiferman said. “This isn’t something that UMD or Housing or anyone is going to force onto anyone. It will be something they would elect into if they want to pursue it as a housing option.”
Leiferman said that this initiative will not only make students feel more comfortable and supported by UMD, it will also increase the number of students who choose to live on campus.
“Part of the reason that I do what I do is because I think living on campus is a great experience and a great opportunity,” Leiferman said. “If this is a way that we can share that opportunity with more students that, in the past, maybe didn’t feel like that was the right opportunity for them, I think that’s a win.”
BY SAM STROM