Although it received unanimous approval from the UNC Board of Trustees in the fall, the University’s gender-neutral housing initiative could be halted before it begins.
N.C. Senate Bill 658, filed Tuesday, would prohibit students of different sexes from living together in on-campus suites and apartments, unless they are married or siblings.
- The University’s gender-neutral housing policy was approved after months of advocacy:
- February 2012: Chancellor Holden Thorp initially rejected gender-neutral housing.
- November 2012: The Board of Trustees approved the initiative, to be implemented this fall in a pilot program.
The bill is a response to the gender-neutral housing policy approved by the Board of Trustees in November.
Advocates for gender-neutral housing say the policy will create a safe living and study environment for all UNC students.
But Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, co-sponsor of the bill, said the policy will cost the University money and time, which should be focused on educational issues.
“North Carolina has great universities because we remain committed to pursuing cutting-edge research, upholding high academic standards and achieving excellence in the classroom,” he said.
“I don’t understand how a policy that allows young men and young women to share living areas … will help us achieve that goal.”
Gender-neutral housing options were initially slated to begin this fall, with a pilot program including 32 spots for students. Students of mixed genders can live in suites and apartments together, but cannot share bedrooms.
Junior Kevin Claybren, who led the push for gender-neutral housing, said he finds opposition to the initiative troubling.
“It’s creating an environment where students who are trying to make a difference are not being heard,” he said.
Barefoot said he does not think legislators are delving too deeply into University matters.
“This bill does not tell the universities how to deal with disputes that arise between college roommates,” he said. “It simply states that the UNC system shall prohibit the assignment of students of the opposite sex to the same dorm room, dorm suite or campus apartment.”
Claybren said legislators need to know that gender-neutral housing is an academic matter that will improve students’ access to education.
“It is important to educate and allow them to realize what (gender-neutral housing) is and what it is not,” Claybren said. “Bullying and harassment is happening, and that is an issue.”
But Sen. David Curtis, R-Gaston, co-sponsor of the bill, said gender-neutral housing is a social issue.
“UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments,” Curtis said in a statement.
Still, Claybren said the alternative housing option ensures all students will receive the education they pay for.
“We need to make sure students are getting the Carolina experience they deserve,” he said.
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