UNC BOG policy could block opposite sex housing

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 04:17 PM

When the UNC Board of Governors meets in August, it will consider a policy to prevent students of the opposite sex from sharing suites and apartments.
The proposed policy received tentative approval from the board’s Committee on University Governance on Thursday and will be considered by the full board when it meets Aug. 9.
If approved, the policy would strike down a gender non-specific housing pilot program scheduled to start at UNC Chapel Hill in the fall.
The program, approved by UNC’s Board of Trustees last November, has been the subject of a bill sponsored by state senators who oppose such living arrangements.
Peter Hans, chairman of the Board of Governors, said the pilot program has been an “unnecessary and unhelpful distraction for the university [system]” in Raleigh coming as it has during a tough budget year in which the university is facing deep cuts.
Additionally, by undercutting legislative efforts to stop the program, Hans said the university system continues to control housing policy on UNC system campuses.
“We felt it was important to maintain our autonomy over our housing policy, and while this effort was well-intentioned, there are more practical accommodations which can be made for those students interested in this program,” Hans said.
Under the proposed policy, which reads like Senate Bill 658 taken up by lawmakers to prevent gender non-specific housing at UNC system schools, university’s could 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.”
Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center at UNC, was disappointed to learn that the board will consider a policy to prevent the pilot program from moving forward.
“We feel we have made it clear why this is important for people to have from a student safety perspective,” said Phoenix, who along with Kevin Claybren, student coordinator of the UNC-CH Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition, spearheaded the effort that led UNC trustees to adopt the school’s gender non-specific housing policy.
Phoenix would like to meet with the Board of Governors to make the case for allowing gender non-specific housing options.
“If this is passed, it’s going to prevent the people most likely to use it from having the ability to do so,” Phoenix said of the policy that will go before the board in August.
Supporters of the UNC policy say the housing option provides students who are sometimes teased or even assaulted because of their sexual preference or gender identity a safe place to live on campus.
In April, Sen. David Curtis, R-Lincoln; Sen. Ben Clarke, D-Cumberland; and Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, sponsored Bill 658 in an effort to strike down the policy and to prevent the housing option from taking root elsewhere in the university system.
“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.”
Senate Bill 658, which died in committee, resurfaced last month as an amendment to the senate’s $20.6 billion budget proposal.
UNC has set aside 32 living spaces for the fall semester for gender non-specific housing.
Four apartments with 16 spaces are at Ram Village, eight spaces or one suite at Carmichael Residence Hall and eight spaces, the equivalent of two suites, at Craige North Residence Hall.
So far, four students have signed up to live in 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.