The University of Alabama has entered into discussions about implementing gender-neutral housing on campus after being prompted to do so by the LGBTQ-student group Spectrum.
“Earlier this semester, Spectrum approached Housing and Residential Communities to discuss the possibility of gender-neutral housing, since this is a topic of interest to some members of Spectrum and it is also being considered by some campuses around the country (primarily in the northeast and west),” Director of Housing Steven Hood said in an emailed statement.
Spectrum is a UA student group whose purpose is to create a supportive environment for the LGBTQ-student community.
Noah Cannon, president of Spectrum, said gender-neutral housing addresses many safety issues commonly faced by these populations.
“Gender-neutral housing allows students to share residential space on campus with whomever they mutually choose, regardless of gender identity or legal sex,” he said.
Cannon said gender-neutral housing is far from commonplace yet, but can be found in schools in 31 different states.
“Gender-neutral housing addresses a very serious safety issue for LGBTQ students on campus, particularly transgender students,” he said. “Transgender students living on campus are housed according to their legal sex, not their gender identity, creating a stifling and potentially hostile environment within the students’ own living space.”
However, Cannon said gender-neutral housing options benefit more than just transgender students on campus.
“Additionally, many LGBTQ students would simply feel more safe living with people who do not share the same legal sex as them,” Cannon said. “Gender-neutral housing can provide that option.”
Maria Katsas, the assistant director of housing at California Institute of Technology, said gender-neutral housing options are not something new to their campus.
“Gender-neutral housing has been offered on our campus since the late 1970s,” Katsas said. “Soon after women started attending the Institute, [administration] realized it would be appropriate.”
Although gender-neutral options have been prevalent on some campuses for decades, Cannon acknowledges the University administration as among the first in the region.
“With this conversation UA is very ahead of the game,” he said. “No other school in the SEC has gender-neutral housing, and very few other flagship universities do nationally. UA has historically been more of a follower with regards to LGBTQ issues, and this is an opportunity to lead.”
Katsas said students at the California Institute of Technology can take advantage of a number of gender-neutral housing options across campus.
“There is no difference in [registration] process, students just list each other as roommates (specific people) or as gender-neutral on their applications,” she said. “It is an option everywhere.”
Although the University is discussing gender-neutral housing options, Hood did not give a prospected date for implementation.
“We have entered into a conversation about gender-neutral housing. The discussion is still in its infancy,” Hood said. “These discussions are relatively recent on our campus.”
Cannon said Spectrum is pleased the University is pursuing discussion about gender-neutral housing options, even though final decisions haven’t been made.
“Spectrum has spearheaded this initiative on campus, bringing the issue to the attention of housing. Nothing has been established as of yet, but we’re happy to be having these conversations,” he said. “The University should absolutely initiate a gender-neutral housing program on campus. It’s vital to the safety of the students on campus, and that should be the biggest priority for this school.”