New Policy To Make
Students Feel At Home

College Houses | Penn students may now request roommates of any gender when they apply for on-campus housing.

According to Phil Nichols, associate professor of legal studies and the faculty director of College Houses and Academic Services, the new guidelines for accommodating “mixed-gender,” or “gender-neutral” housing have been under consideration for a couple of years and come about for three reasons:

“First, a lot of our students, when they move off campus, configure housing arrangements without reference to gender ... There should be a way of reacting to requests for similar arrangements” on campus. “It’s normal to live with who your friends are and hopefully friendship isn’t segregated by gender,” he added. “It’s not a romantic thing and it’s certainly not a physical thing. It’s a friendship thing.

“Second, we want to make some progress toward effectuating change in [Penn’s] non-discrimination policy, which includes gender identification and would encompass transgender students.” Nichols added, “I’m sure there are students at Penn who are transgender who don’t necessarily feel comfortable with everything being classified [as male or female]. If we can make them feel more comfortable, that’s another wonderful goal the college houses can accomplish.”

The third is to keep up with Penn’s peer institutions. “We’re not a leader in this field,” Nichols said. “Most of the Ivies already do at least this, if not more.”

Though gender-neutral housing doesn’t appear as an option on the application distributed by Housing and Conference Services, students can make their requests directly to the HCS office. Incoming freshmen are excluded from doing so.

College senior Bradley Breuer said he’s sad he won’t get to benefit from the new policy. When he and a friend applied to room together after his freshman year, they were told that men and women were prohibited from living in the same room.

Breuer, who’s been active on campus as co-chair of the Civic House associates coalition, filed a complaint. “My claim was discrimination based on sexual orientation,” he said. “Often a gay man prefers to live with a woman.”

According to Breuer, their case gained momentum when the Undergraduate Assembly adopted a proposal in favor of gender-neutral housing last year.

Ideally, he said, students who seek gender-neutral housing wouldn’t have to go through a separate process and could simply fill out the name of the person they want to live with on their housing form.

“The world is not as fast-paced as I would like it to be in making progress, but it’s really important that Penn has done this for its students,” he said. “It isn’t really a gay and lesbian issue; it’s about letting people have the choice to live with whom they feel the most comfortable.” —S.F.

©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/05/05

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