By HOPE RACINE
Shortly after the University of Mary Washington announced a new mixed-sex housing program, George Mason University announced a truly gender-neutral housing option for all students. The GMU program, which allows students of any sex to room together, places them as the first school in Virginia to have a housing program of this type.
A recent Washington Post article made the announcement and left many UMW students scratching their heads, believing UMW was the first to implement a similar program. Some were outraged.
But alas, UMW was not the first.
While UMW may be the first to institute a program of this type, our gender-neutral housing is more about living in a like-minded community and less about true gender neutrality. Currently, students can live in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, but are still required to live with those of the same sex. The restrictions are understandable. Until recently, such a program was never instituted in Virginia. There are concerns over students abusing the program and many people are hesitant. But who exactly is holding UMW back?
In a Facebook comment, Chris Porter, director of residence life, expressed her desire for UMW to have led Virginia in this step forward.
“I really wanted to be director of the program that was first, but, in reality, GMU wins. I’ll settle for second though,” Porter said. “I am hoping that with a sympathetic Governor and Attorney General, and with GMU taking the plunge that we will not be far behind.”
UMW has long been a forerunner for equal rights and social movements. The gender-neutral living community is a great asset to the school and is a selling point for many potential students. Yet without the agreement of the Board of Visitors and President Richard Hurley, UMW will never be able to follow GMU’s lead.
According to the Campus Pride Trans Policy Clearinghouse, 149 U.S. Institutions have gender blind housing available for interested students. According to the Washington Post, only one to two percent of students who attend institutions that offer such housing actually take advantage of it.
This dispels the largest argument against gender-blind housing, which often claims that students will abuse such a privilege in order to live with their romantic partners.
However, the gender-neutral living community currently available at UMW has not experienced students attempting to abuse the freedom the community offers. Students who are engaged in same-sex relationships rarely attempt to live together in normal student housing, which indicates that students of the opposite sex are not likely to attempt this either.
UMW recently took at leap with its mixed-sex housing opportunity, but needs to take it a step further and offer a fully gender-neutral program. GMU already forged the way for UMW, and if students and the residence life program are in favor of such a move, there is virtually no reason to not.