February 13, 2013

Cornell Launches Gender-Inclusive Housing Option

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Students participating in on-campus housing selection this semester will — for the first time in Cornell history — have the option to live with a roommate of a different gender.

After the Student Assembly passed a resolution to adopt a gender-inclusive housing in October, President David Skorton endorsed it that same month, allowing Cornell to adopt a gender-inclusive housing policy.

Of the 3,340 people who have signed up for this year’s housing lottery so far, 87 people have expressed interest in gender inclusive housing as of Wednesday, according to Barbara Romano, director of residential and event services.

The policy will normalize attitudes toward gender, according to Joseph Burke, director of residential programs.

“[Gender-inclusive housing will] provide a much-needed housing option for students, increase awareness and [encourage] better understanding of gender and sexuality,” Burke wrote in an email.

Dean Iwaoka ’13, LGBTQ liaison at-large to the Student Assembly, said that though the passage of gender-inclusive housing represents an important step for the LGBT community, the policy is geared toward the needs of the Cornell community at large.

“I think it’s a little silly to say it’s an LGBT issue … We want all students to be able to choose who they want to live with,” Iwaoka said.

Emily Bick ’13, president of Haven: The LGBTQ Student Union and one of the sponsors of the resolution, echoed Iwaoka’s sentiments.

“The thought behind it is that not everyone’s ideal living situation is in a same-sex living situation,” she said.

Starting in Spring 2013, students applying to live in a program house, a language house or a University co-op will be allowed to select gender-inclusive housing. Students who choose to continue living on West Campus next year will also be able to choose this option.

Current freshmen can choose gender-inclusive housing for the next academic year, but not within the West Campus housing system, according to Iwaoka.

“The reason that we have to wait till next year for rising sophomores is because there’s not enough staff in the housing to do this manually,” Iwaoka said.

However, in subsequent housing selection, all students — including rising sophomores — will be able to participate, according to Burke.

Starting in the 2013-14 academic year, the software used for the housing selection will be updated to accommodate mixed-gender rooms and suites, according to Iwaoka. When the program is launched, Cornell will be the first university to have such a system in place, he added.

“As soon as we [update the software], Cornell will be the first school to have a computer application program that allows [mixed-gender room selection],” he said. “Most universities do that by hand in their housing office.”

Though the gender-inclusive housing was approved by almost all S.A members, Peter Scelfo ’15, undesignated at-large, member of the S.A. who had cast the lone dissenting vote, said he stood firmly by his decision.

“Having a roommate of the opposite gender poses several safety concerns including, potential for physical, emotional, and academic harm,” he said.

Gender-inclusive housing may eventually extend to random housing selections, in which students do not choose their own roommates or suitemates, according to Bick. Such a system would be “ground-breaking” because no other university has implemented a similar program, Bick said.

All other Ivy League universities have some kind of gender-inclusive housing policy, Bick said. Iwaoka added that he would have liked to see the gender-inclusive housing policy implemented earlier at Cornell, as a number of other universities have such programs already in place.

“But it’s better late than never,” he said.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee