Gender-blind housing campaign starts in Greensboro

by Amy Kingsley

At the beginning of the fall 2006 semester Guilford College student David Norton moved into his dorm room, but his intended roommate was nowhere to be found. The same thing happened to his best friend, a woman, and the two soon faced a quandary when the college told them they had to find new roommates.

They petitioned the school for permission to room together and, when they ran into resistance, managed to gather 600 student signatures in support of something called gender-blind housing. The policy, which has already been adopted by about 20 colleges, allows students to request a roommate of the opposite sex. Guilford College ultimately denied the request, but Norton decided to carry on, taking his research and recently-won advocacy skills to the internet where he started the National Student Genderblind Campaign.

Gender-blind housing is primarily intended to accommodate transgender, gay or lesbian students who are not comfortable living with someone of the same biological sex. The institutions that have implemented such policies, including Wesleyan University, Clark University and the University of California-Riverside, report that only about 2 percent of students take advantage of it.

“There seems to be this fear that heterosexual couples are going to move in together if this happens,” Norton said. “What we’ve found is that heterosexual couples chose not to room together most of the time.”

The gender-blind housing debate has already made national headlines. A representative from the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition appeared on the Fox News Channel’s “Heartland” with John Kasich on Dec. 15 defending such policies.

The organization is focusing on networking with other groups with similar goals like the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition. In addition to advocating for gender-blind housing options, the campaign might someday include issues like gender-blind bathroom facilities.

Public understanding is key, Norton said, and he’s been trying to dispel the notion that all students will be paired with opposite-sex roommates.

“It’s not like freshman woman are going to show up on campus and be living with men,” he said. “It’s an optional program.”

Although the campaign is mostly focused on getting information out to student groups on other campuses, Norton hasn’t given up on Guilford College.

“Hopefully over time the Board of Trustees will listen to the student body,” Norton said. “But if we can’t get it to happen at Guilford College, we want it to happen at other schools.”

– Amy Kingsley