September 30, 2012

Cornell Student Assembly Approves Gender-Neutral Housing Plan

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Six months after Cornell’s gender-neutral housing pilot program was discontinued due to a lack of demand, the Student Assembly approved a resolution Thursday to create a revised housing program that will once again allow gender-neutral housing on campus.

If the plan is approved by President David Skorton, upperclassmen will be able to request to live in “gender-inclusive” suites, or dormitories that are open to both genders, in February’s housing lottery. Students cannot be placed in a gender-inclusive suite unless they specifically request it on their housing application, according to Dean Iwaoka ’13, S.A. LGBTQ liaison at-large.

Unlike the discontinued plan, students of opposite genders would be able to live, not only in the same suite, but in the same room as well, according to Ulysses Smith ’13, S.A. representative for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

Applauding the initiative, Emily Bick ’13, president of Haven — Cornell’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student union — said that including gender-inclusive housing on campus is “important for the mental health of a lot of Cornellians.” The resolution, she said, will allow students to live in their “ideal housing situation.”

Because some students already live with members of the opposite gender off-campus, Bick said, offering gender-neutral housing on campus would mean that students do not have to “incur the cost of living off-campus” in order to live with their preferred roommates.

The revised gender-neutral housing program would also allow students to have access to various on-campus housing benefits, Bick said.

“On-campus housing offers a number of comfortable things, such as dining,” Bick said.

The new program differs from the discontinued program by, if approved, providing more access at places on campus. Whereas the old program was only available on West Campus –– with only one gender-inclusive suite in each West Campus dorm –– the revised program would be available to all upperclassmen, regardless of where they are living, depending on demand, Smith said.

Smith said that he hopes the decision to offer gender-neutral housing at more locations on campus will help ameliorate the issues the previous gender-neutral housing program faced.

“The justification for discontinuing the program was that enough people didn’t really take advantage of it,” he said. “But it was poorly advertised. Nobody really knew about it. It was restricted to one place, where most people don’t even get in.”

Bick said she expects that several hundred students will take advantage of the program, based on estimates from a similar program at the University of Pennsylvania which was used by about 250 students in its third year.

Members of the S.A. said they expect that Skorton will approve the plan, adding that other top administrators have already expressed their support for it.

“[The administration] is pretty much in universal agreement about the policy already,” Smith said.

Although the S.A. approved the resolution Thursday, members of the administration and Cornell Campus Life are still reviewing the plan.

“I want to wait until my staff, who will have to implement it, give me some feedback, but I think we’re positively inclined with what we know so far,” said Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94, vice president of student and academic services. “I think we just want to look to [at] all the logistical issues.”

While the new program will initially be available to only upperclassmen, it will be also be offered to incoming freshmen and transfer students by the 2014-15 academic year, if approved by Skorton.

The housing application would be revised to contain a section discouraging romantic partners from living together in gender-inclusive suites, but Cornell cannot legally ask students to disclose their romantic involvements, Bick said.

The S.A. voted 23-1 in favor of the proposal.

“The gender-inclusive housing program is a very exciting campus initiative,” said S.A. President Adam Gitlin ’13. “I believe it aligns with Cornell’s core commitment to diversity.”

Peter Scelfo ’15, at-large representative for the S.A., was the lone dissenting vote. He said he thought the S.A. could have discussed the housing proposal more thoroughly before voting on it.

“I feel as though the Assembly acted double-quick and should have offered the resolution more debate and discussion to discover issues with and without the execution of the resolution,” Scelfo said in an email. “I voted with my understanding of the Cornell community and with the best interest of safety, academics and social life in mind.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky