Gender-neutral housing proposed

RHA and Student Senate are both in support of all-gender housing on campus

Story by Jessie Tremmel, Staff Writer

The push for gender-neutral housing came at the end of January from the Residence Hall Association, said Chuck Major, the director of Housing and Residence Life. Residence Hall Association approved a proposal for gender-neutral housing and the Student Senate voted to back RHA on Feb. 3.

Gender-neutral housing would enable four people who identify as male, female or trans* to live together on a volunteer basis as an alternative to traditional residence halls.

UW-La Crosse and UW-Milwaukee have similar programs for gender-neutral housing, with a small percentage of students taking advantage of the option. At La Crosse, eight of the 3,500 students living on campus are signed up for gender-neutral housing. At Milwaukee 15 of 4,000 students live in gender-neutral housing on campus.

Major said he would expect similar percentages at Eau Claire, but said as long as you have options available, it is an improvement.

“If you only have a few people in a program it’s worth still worthwhile,” Major said. “It benefits those people.”

Since Housing and Residence Life is in support of gender-neutral housing, Major said he would make a recommendation to the vice chancellor of student affairs, Beth Hellwig, in the next week or two. Hellwig will then review the proposal and make a recommendation to the chancellor. If the proposal can make it through the higher levels of administration, Major said a few apartments in Chancellors Hall would initially be designated as gender-neutral. Creating the space for gender-neutral housing would not cost anything, Major said.

The Student Senate gender-neutral legislation was authored primarily by Ben Thompson-Isaac who is an on-campus senator and also the RHA liaison, said Stephen Kahlow, an off-campus senator. Kahlow said Thompson-Isaac attended all the RHA meetings and informed the Student Senate that gender-neutral housing legislation was being passed through RHA. Thompson-Isaac suggested Student Senate do the same to show support for the idea, Kahlow said.

“There is minimal economic impact, the benefit is purely for the students who are more comfortable living in a gender-neutral situation, rather than being designated male or female,” Kahlow said. “As far as I’m concerned if it benefits even a small number of students at minimal cost to the rest, then we might as well do it.”

While students who move off campus can choose any living situation they want, this legislation reflects that choice while living on campus.

Tiffany Miller, Eau Claire senior, said she thinks gender-neutral housing is a great idea because it helps accommodate everyone and eliminates gender barriers. She also said that gender-neutral housing will dissolve gender preconceptions.

“Men and women are socially constructed as children to either be boys or girls,” Miller said. “And that creates inequality early on, and this way it eventually brings them back together.”