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UNC-system schools look to UNC-CH to develop gender-neutral housing policy

Terrell Gorin-Davis shares an on-campus Appalachian State University apartment — with a woman.

“We have a very close relationship,” Gorin-Davis, a senior, said. “We consider each other best friends.”

They share a two-bedroom apartment, which Gorin-Davis said they obtained by signing a waiver verifying that they knew they were living with a member of the opposite sex.

“But if something went wrong with my roommate, I could go through the normal process to move out,” he said.

Like most schools across the UNC system, ASU handles gender-neutral housing requests on a case-by-case basis, said Tom Kane, the university’s housing director.

But many at ASU and other system schools are dissatisfied with the policies regarding gender-neutral housing and are pushing administrators for a change.

At UNC-CH, Chancellor Holden Thorp nixed a gender neutral-housing plan in February, citing concerns about “stakeholders off campus.” The plan had gained support from hundreds of students and different campus groups.

Several administrators have said UNC-system schools are waiting for UNC-CH as a flagship institution to implement a more explicit policy.

“All the universities are watching Chapel Hill,” Kane said. “If (UNC-CH) can get it through, I think other schools will follow.”

At ASU, students work with the school’s Multicultural Center to discuss gender-neutral housing options, which usually results in the assignment of a private room with a private bathroom, Kane said.

“We really want for students to have a positive college experience and we know it’s particularly challenging for transgender students, and we’re trying to chart the course to make it a positive experience for them,” he said.

Kane said although the school is willing to accommodate students with special needs, he thinks the idea of gender-neutral housing would become more challenging if heterosexual males and females wanted to share an apartment.

“Parents are going to get more involved,” Kane said. “We can’t forget we live in the South and we’re going to move more slowly on this than other issues.”

Terri Phoenix, the director of UNC-CH’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center, said individual exceptions for gender-neutral housing is not enough.

“That is not the same as having an open program for gender-nonspecific housing that is visible on the website, that is available to anyone and is well-advertised and publicized.

“As a flagship institution, people look to Chapel Hill to be the first,” Phoenix said. “We need other UNC-system schools to understand that gender-nonspecific housing is an issue of safety, recruitment and retention.”

UNC-Asheville also works with students to accommodate gender-neutral housing on an individual basis, said Jackie McHargue, the dean of students.

McHargue said UNC-A had a strong student movement advocating for gender-neutral housing a few years ago. Interest died down because administrators worked individually with students to make housing decisions, she said.

“When you identify areas as gender-neutral, it can marginalize them,” McHargue said.

Proponents of gender-neutral housing will be presenting at the UNC-system Association of Student Governments’ meeting on March 31.

Phoenix said a rally will occur March 27 to outline the upcoming system-wide campaign for gender-neutral housing.

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“Right now, we give people a choice,” Phoenix said. “We give people the choice if they want to live in all-male or all-female dorms. This is just extending choice.”

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