Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 says no, for now at least, to a proposal that would enable the University to offer gender-neutral housing.
In a memo to Winston Crisp ’92 (JD), vice chancellor for student affairs, Thorp said the issue had not been adequately discussed with UNC’s “stakeholders” off the campus.
“We owe it to this issue to ensure that people understand what we are proposing,” Thorp wrote. “Relatively few universities (only three in North Carolina and none in the UNC System) have adopted this approach.”
Gender-neutral housing means gender is not considered — students can room with students of the opposite gender, and that is open to gay, straight and transgender students. Though there is a concern about a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman living together, the impetus behind gender-neutral is a concern for comfort and, in some cases, safety, in the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
The campus Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center was not happy with Thorp’s decision.
In a memo published Tuesday in The Daily Tar Heel, the center said it was “very disappointed” and that it hoped this would be the basis for further dialogue. The paper quoted Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center, as saying, “The people who currently feel unsafe will be disappointed as well.”
The center surveyed student opinion at UNC and studied how the issue is handled at other schools before taking the idea to Crisp. Phoenix said it has been working on the proposal for five years.
In a feature article in the January issue, the Review reported that there are 33 public and 66 private colleges and universities that provide gender-neutral housing, including six of UNC’s peer institutions: Duke, the University of California at Berkeley, Emory, Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan. The details of how the housing works on each vary by school, but at UNC it most likely would include suites or apartments that students who are interested in the housing arrangement could opt into. No one would be forced into gender-neutral housing. In a petition collected by students in the LGBTQ Center, 2,807 students said they supported the decision, and 716 said they would want to participate.
“[Gender-neutral housing] is happening all across the country,” Housing Director Larry Hicks said in the Review story. “It has been around for about 10 years. … For some reason, the conversation always drops to the subject of sex, and this isn’t what this housing option is about. It’s about accommodating student needs.”
Thorp said in his memo that he recommends that student affairs and the housing office “continue our current practices of working closely with students to assign them housing based on their particular needs.”
He said that “we will not tolerate harassment or threats to our students,” and asked Crisp to “review and strengthen the education we provide our students about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as it relates to student housing.”