Gender-neutral housing at Carolina — first denied by then-Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 and then supported by UNC trustees nine months later — has been struck from housing options on UNC System campuses by its Board of Governors.
BOG Chair Peter Hans had signaled the outcome in June, calling gender-neutral an unneeded distraction from the system’s agenda in the N.C. General Assembly. The board voted unanimously on Aug. 9 to ban it, effective immediately.
Proponents of gender-neutral accommodations say it is not about promiscuity but about protection for some students who are bullied because of their sexual orientation. Gender-neutral housing means gender is not considered — students can live with students of the opposite gender, and that is open to gay, straight and transgender students.
A rationale for gender-neutral written by the GNH Coalition — a statewide network of students, staff, faculty, family members and university alumni — read in part:
“Gender non-specific housing would allow people of any sex, gender or self-identified gender to room together. This would benefit people in many different situations. For example, if two siblings of different genders came to UNC and wanted to room together, the availability of gender non-specific housing would make this possible. Also, individuals who are lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex and/or gender non-conforming would benefit from this option because it would increase the likelihood of a welcoming and affirming environment due to a greater number of potential roommate options.”
Terri Phoenix, director of UNC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center, was disappointed in the decision and in the fact that students were not able to address the BOG. “We had hoped for a different outcome,” Phoenix said.
All UNC campus dorms are mixed-gender except for four that are for women only and three that are for men only. But the University has not allowed men and women in the same suites or in the same units in five campus apartment buildings.
Thorp declared in February 2012 that the University was not ready for gender-neutral housing. But the trustees said that they were ready to let different-gender students live in the same dorm suite or campus apartment together — but not in the same dorm room.
Students were allowed to apply for mixed-gender suites in campus dorms and mixed-gender apartments. A handful of students had applied for the option.
Hans said that while safety of students was a BOG priority, he believed there were more practical ways to achieve it than allowing men and women to live together. Proponents of the option said that, by striking down the new policy at Carolina, the BOG had limited the degree to which the University can help protect its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
“That really demonstrates a lack of awareness of who would be taking advantage of this and why it’s necessary,” Phoenix said of Hans’ statement.
The LGBTQ Center in 2011 pushed for gender-neutral housing after working on a proposal for about five years. Their research showed that 33 public and 66 private universities made provisions for it.
Phoenix said there were “a number of [UNC System] schools that were working in very serious conversation” about gender-neutral, citing East Carolina, UNC-Charlotte, Appalachian State and UNC-Asheville. Phoenix said the group would continue to try to educate decision makers about the need for it.