September 20, 2011

Gender-Blind Housing: College Men and Women Living Together

There is a new movement gaining ground in student housing: gender-blind (sometimes referred to as gender-neutral) housing assignments.

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In the 1970s, students were fighting for Co-Ed dormitories.  Through protests and student demonstrations students took what, in the late 1960s, was a ‘shocking’ idea and made it a collegiate norm by the late 1970s.  Young men and women would live together in the same dormitory-some even on the same floor!

Flash Forward 40 Years…

There is a new movement gaining ground in student housing: gender-blind (sometimes referred to as gender-neutral) housing assignments.

Where alumni of the past fought simply for the right to have men and women living in the same building, students today are fighting for the right to have men and women living in the same room.

While more detailed information about the movement can be found at, I’ll try to briefly cover the gist.

Simply put, Gender-Blind Housing Assignments are just what it says… roommate assignments that are made regardless of gender. Where history once gave us demonstrations over men and women living in the same building at university, we now can find some men and women living in the same room.

You May Be Thinking Big Deal? So What?  Who cares?

The recent push for gender-blind assignments comes from creating safe climates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students.  Tired of the age old anxiety of “what happens if my roommate finds out I’m [insert your preferred non-heterosexual identity here]”, some communities attempted to create safe spaces by allowing roommates who are informed and accepting to room together, regardless of gender.

Last year you may remember that there was increased media attention due to the suicides of numerous young people in regards to anti-gay bullying.  With the public attention that resulted in response to the suicides, a website dedicated to advocacy of gender-blind housing, is tracking how more universities and administrators are beginning to embrace gender-blind housing as a way of making sure all students are comfortable on campus.

What Colleges And How Many Students Are We Really Talking About?

Thus far the list of universities that allow different genders to room together is diverse and expanding. Where schools like University of Michigan have been implementing gender-blind housing for a few years, according to, schools such as Emory University and Ohio University are just launching their programs.

The co-ed room assignments are partially experimental. In short, not just anyone will be a part of the gender-blind assignment pool. Most universities require that you register for a living-and-learning community that focuses around the ideals of diversity and social justice.  As a result, it’s a pretty small percentage of students who get to do this.

Having said that, one of the fears expressed by opponents of gender-blind housing is the possibility of sexual assault. Understandably, gender-blind housing is not going to be for every student. Nor is every student mature enough to successfully excel in this sort of environment. Thus, I feel it is important to state once again, that the students who choose to partake in gender-blind housing assignments are NOT random. These are not students who unexpectedly find themselves rooming with someone of another gender. Instead, these are students who have made a conscious choice to be a part of communities that embrace diversity and social justice. These are communities that talk extensively about the topics of gender, sexuality, race, and sexual assault.

Concluding Thoughts

Today we take the idea of men and women living in the same building for granted. Today, co-ed dormitories are an accepted and expected part of university life. But this wasn’t always the case.  Norms, beliefs, and policies can and do change over time. While the new gender-blind housing assignment policies certainly may not be for everyone, they do demonstrate how some universities are attempting to address the fluid nature of gender and sexuality.

When I look back to the protests and demonstrations of the 1970s and read about the recent rend of gender-blind assignments, there seems to be a common theme. A theme that is articulated well in the words of the Harvard College Democrats in a posting on “the proper role of the college is not to determine with whom students may or may not live, but rather to empower its students to make their own decisions responsibly.”