Trustees Give Approval to Gender-Neutral Housing

Late in 2011, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 said he wasn’t ready to approve gender-neutral housing, saying trustees, parents, alumni and others might not fully understand what it was about.

On Thursday, members of the Board of Trustees said unanimously 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 will be able to apply for mixed-gender suites in campus dorms and mixed-gender apartments for next fall.

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.

All 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.

Members of the campus Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center pushed for gender-neutral after working on a proposal for about five years. Their research showed that 33 public and 66 private universities made provisions for it.

Thorp had said that UNC wasn’t ready. Last January, he asked Winston Crisp ’92 (JD), vice chancellor for student affairs, to “review and strengthen the education we provide our students about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as it relates to student housing.”

On Thursday, Thorp said: “Gender-neutral housing is an important project that is vital to protecting the safety of our students. Last year, I told students I supported the idea but wanted to make sure external stakeholders understood what it means.”

The LGBTQ Center worked throughout the year to get the policy changed. When a trustees committee endorsed a new policy in a prelude to the full board meeting, Terri Phoenix, the group’s director, said he was pleasantly surprised. The News & Observer of Raleigh quoted him as saying, “We were wonderfully surprised. We did not expect that today. I think we made a clear and convincing case that it’s about safety and academic success for the students.”

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