BOG policy prohibits gender-neutral housing

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 02:46 PM

Without comment, the UNC Board of Governors on Friday approved a policy that prevents students of the opposite sex from sharing suites and apartments.
The policy stops UNC from implementing a gender-neutral housing pilot program that was set to start next week.
Members of the UNC Board of Trustees approved the program last November after being convinced by student supporters that such a policy is needed to ensure the safety of lesbian, gay, sexual and transgender students who are sometimes harassed or threatened due to their sexual preference of gender identity.
Friday’s board meeting was attended by three members of Campus Pride, a Charlotte-based nonprofit that fights for LGBT equality on college campuses, who sat through the early part of the meeting then later stood in the lobby of the General Administration building holding pink and green signs in support of the housing option.
Shane L. Windmeyer, executive director and founder of Campus Pride, noted that a transgender student at UNC Charlotte committed suicide last school year after being harassed and teased by other students.
“For the UNC Board of Governors to pass it by consent, without discussion, doing it over the summer when students are gone, is not only disrespectful to this young person who lost her life, but it’s also reckless and careless when it comes to campus safety.”
Romeo Jackson, a summer fellow for Campus Pride from Northern Illinois University, said he attended the meeting to speak for those students who support gender neutral housing but are away from campus this summer.
“We know that in summer most students leave, they have internships, they go home,” Jackson said. “I question why this couldn’t wait a month to have students come in to give their opinion.”
In an interview with area media, Board Chairman Peter Hans said the board has had two months to consider the policy change since it was discussed in June, and noted there was no opposition to the proposal.
“Our board wants every student to be safe, and comfortable and included,” Hans said, “The board believes there are more practical ways to achieve those goals than assigning young men and young women to the same dorm rooms and campus suites.”
Hans said the campuses can use a variety of services and programs to help students with their needs.
“That’s probably the most appropriate to handle any concerns they might have,” Hans said.
The policy adopted by the board reads: “The constituent institutions shall not assign members of the opposite sex to any institutionally owned and operated dormitory room, dormitory suite, or campus apartment unless the students are siblings, parent and child, or they are legally married. This policy applies to housing assignments beginning with the fall 2013 semester.”
The Republican-controlled General Assembly threatened to pass a law prohibiting gender neutral housing at state universities, and the policy adopted by the Board of Governors reads a lot like Senate Bill 658 lawmakers proposed to block gender neutral housing.
“Both members of the house and senate made it clear they were going to pass a law to this effect, and I think our board also felt it was important to maintain our autonomy over housing policy rather than the legislature setting it into state law,” Hans said.
Senate Bill 658 was sponsored by Sen. David Curtis, R-Lincoln; Sen. Ben Clarke, D-Cumberland; and Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake.
“The purpose of this bill is to help the UNC system regain its focus on the core mission of educating young people and helping them find meaningful employment in our state,” Curtis, the bill’s primary sponsor, said in April. “UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments.”
UNC had set aside 32 living spaces for the fall semester for gender non-specific housing.
About 66 private universities and 32 public schools, including eight of UNC’s peers, allow some form of gender non-specific housing.
In North Carolina, Duke University and Guilford and Warren Wilson colleges offer gender non-specific housing.