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New housing policy establishes campus-wide sexand gender-neutral rules for choosing roommates

By Nicole Zhao     2/7/12 6:00pm

A campus-wide policy effective starting with this year's room draw will allow gender-neutral, or co-ed, housing at every residential college. The policy allows two or more students to share a multiple-occupancy bedroom regardless of their sexes or gender identities.

Students who wish to use this housing option will not be required to notify their parents or obtain approval from the college masters. The policy would not apply to new student rooming assignments.

Prior to the new policy, there was no official university regulation stating whom students could room with. In practice, a student who wished to room with another of the opposite sex had to request approval from their college masters.

The policy initiative came from Jones College seniors and Thresher editorial staff Hallie Jordan and Devin Glick.

Jordan and Glick requested to room together at Jones for the 2009-2010 academic year. Though Jones College refused their request, Jordan said Hanszen College masters told them they could live together if they transferred to Hanszen.

Jordan and Glick subsequently proposed the idea for an official university-wide rooming policy to former Dean of Undergraduates Robin Forman.

"We wanted Rice to choose either co-ed rooming or no co-ed rooming, not have some vague in-between," Jordan said. "It seemed really unfair that Devin and I could live together in one college and not another since everyone is assigned randomly to a dormitory."

After John Hutchinson assumed the position of dean, he advised Jordan and Glick to write up a proposal for a written policy in consultation with Sid Richardson College master Elise Sawyer.

Sawyer said she believes she was selected in part because of her experience as former Will Rice College master and because her daughter, a Sid Richardson alumna, had roomed with a male student her senior year.

After Jordan and Glick presented the proposal to the Committee of Masters and Presidents, who unanimously recommended it, the proposal was presented to President David Leebron and the Board of Trustees.

Glick said that students should choose who they can best live with.

"That is not something that's determined by sex or gender," Glick said. "It's determined by who you are friends with."

While presenting the policy to the masters and presidents, Jordan and Glick discussed how diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity call for the ability to freely select a roommate.

"The current situation assumes that if you're a girl, you'll get along best with a girl," Jordan said. "[However] it doesn't seem like a male-female situation would cause more problems than other set-ups would."

Jordan and Glick cited the fact that the policy would be in accordance with Rice's Equal Opportunity policy and that many of Rice's peer universities, such as Duke, Emory, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton, have already implemented gender-neutral rooming policies.

According to Hutchinson, the goals of the policy included establishing greater uniformity across colleges regarding the housing possibility.

"The new policy really just codifies what had become common practice amongst the colleges," Hutchinson said. "However, the students who raised this issue pointed out that the absence of a policy made the practice somewhat unknown to students who might benefit from it."

Sawyer also praised the practice's standardization across campus.

"Different masters had different feelings about the kinds of examples or kinds of things that could happen," Sawyer said. "It needed to be clear that this was something that the university embraced and supported."

According to Sawyer, the college masters were generally receptive about the policy.

"It was not a conversation of ‘yay' or ‘nay' among the masters," Sawyer said. "It was more of a question of writing it correctly [and] a question of ‘How do we best do this?'"

Brown College master Steve Cox said he was glad the policy would be implemented.

"Our gender norms are much too rigid and can have a detrimental effect on the development of a young person and can impede our ability to love and respect one another," Cox said.

Former Wiess College master Michael Gustin supported the policy, but expressed concern over students in a pre-existing romantic relationship, whether mixed-gender or not, deciding to room together.

While Gustin served as master at Wiess from 2006 to 2011, he allowed co-ed rooming on the conditions that parents were notified and the students were not in a pre-existing romantic relationship.

"The problem for a master has to do with the fact that there's a problem for everyone if they break up," Gustin said. "The masters don't necessarily have the flexibility to deal with that. Though it could still happen anyway, [the latter] pre-existing condition would reduce the probability of [a break-up conflict] happening."

Brown College President Joey Spinella said he thought a university-wide policy was a good idea.

"This is something that has in the past been unclear for the different colleges and so it's helpful to have a clear standard, so no students feel they are in an uncomfortable situation," Spinella, a senior, said.

Other students had mixed thoughts on the new policy, particularly regarding the possibility of a romantic couple rooming together.

"I can see it being not a very good idea, like if you have a boyfriend, you decide to room together and something goes wrong," Martel College sophomore Isabel Lopez-Garcia said. "Also I think people need some privacy, especially if they share a bathroom. That can get weird and awkward."

Sid Rich sophomore Shanay Kapadia said he believed there would be a higher risk for conflict with mixed-gender roommates than same-gender roommates.

"If the student wants to room with someone regardless of gender, I think they should be allowed to," Kapadia said. "The odds of having a some sort of complication or [romantic] relationship between same sex roommates is a lot lower than the odds of having one between different gender roommates, just because that's more prevalent."

Brown freshman Nicole Chun commended the freedom the policy gave students.

"You can still do whatever you want, but it leaves room for girls who might get along better with guys and guys who might get along better with girls," Chun said. "Especially if you go into certain cases where maybe a guy who is bisexual or gay feels more closely attached to females. He shouldn't be stopped from rooming with them, and vice versa with girls who may be lesbians."

Jordan and Glick said they were glad the adminstration was cooperative.

"It's really nice to see the administration being open to change and open to working with students," Jordan said.

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