Last week, George Washington University approved a student proposal to allow students to choose roommates they feel most comfortable with and get along with the best – regardless of gender. Gender-neutral housing, as it is commonly called, will be available to all students in all but the three female-only dorms on its campus starting next fall.
GWU joins around 50 other colleges and universities across the country with similar expanded housing options, but is somewhat unique in terms of the expansiveness of its new policy. For example, Princeton University’s pilot of the option began this fall, but was limited to upperclass undergraduates in apartment-style dorms. Similarly, Columbia University restricted its new policy to sophomore, junior and senior students. GWU should be commended for its leadership in ensuring all of its students are able to feel comfortable in their living situations.
As a GWU alumnus, I had the opportunity to discuss my personal experience with the review committee evaluating the proposal. Like many queer students, I finally came out to my friends and family while at college. It was definitely a process though, and while at school students should be focused on learning, not worried about potential harassment or feel forced to hide their sexuality or gender identity from their roommates.
Schools with gender-neutral housing policies typically report that the percentage of students who take advantage of them is low and these policies serve as a sign of the campus’ commitment to being welcoming and inclusive. These are the type of indicators high school seniors look to when trying to figure out which school is right for them. I’m proud that since my graduation, my alma mater has continued its efforts to support LGBT students by opening a resource center, adding gender identity to its non-discrimination policy, starting an LGBT studies minor and now offering gender-neutral housing.
Of course, none of these changes would have happened without the tireless advocacy by students, faculty and staff who recognized the importance of these changes. Check out HRC’s youth and campus outreach program to learn more about campus activism, whether you want to form an LGBT student group or trade tips with students at campuses across the county.