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Boston University considering gender-neutral housing

Posted by Your Town  January 16, 2013 06:18 PM

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Boston University’s Committee on Student Life and Policies is scheduled to meet Friday with student government members about a proposal for gender-neutral housing, after administrators told the student government in early December that the housing initiative had been suspended, according to a spokesman for the BU student government.

Saurabh Mahajan, directory of advocacy and a spokesman for the student government, said that he will attend the meeting along with student body President Aditya Rudra.

Mahajan said the government passed the proposal this past spring, after surveying more than 1,000 BU students. Administrators told the student government that the university would begin pilot programs for gender-neutral housing by the fall of 2012, and later pushed the program back to spring of 2013, he said.

Then in early December, Mahajan said, the government learned from Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore that the university was suspending the initiative to focus on other housing issues.

“It was a little bit of a surprise when it came out that this is no longer a priority for BU housing or the administration,” Mahajan said Wednesday in a phone interview.

In mid-December, students from the group “Gender Neutral BU” congregated outside the president’s office “to peacefully demand that President Robert Brown respond to students’ need for Gender Neutral Housing on campus,” the group said in a statement.

In the statement, Gender Neutral BU said that after approximately one hour of “using their voices to share personal stories regarding how the administration’s failure to implement Gender Neutral Housing affects their campus,” students were told to evacuate the premises or they would be arrested and suspended from the university.

BU spokesman Colin Riley confirmed that approximately 35 students protested in front of the president’s office.

“They were loud and disrespectful for a period of time and were told they needed to leave after about 45 minutes or so,” he said.

Riley said the university wants its students to feel safe and welcomed while living on campus.

“Our priority is to make sure students live and study in a safe and positive environment,” he said.

Members of Gender Neutral BU declined to comment about their initiative, but they released a statement saying that gender-neutral housing is necessary for fostering a safe and inclusive campus. The group is calling for the university president to voice his opinion on the issue, and for the BU administration to support gender-neutral housing.

“We are disappointed that the administration has determined that Gender Neutral Housing is not a priority on their current housing agenda,” the statement said. “The collective voice of the student body has been silenced. We understand the importance of other initiatives being undertaken by the University but it is unacceptable to disregard student priorities.”

According to its website, Gender Neutral BU is comprised of members from the student government, the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism, as well as student, faculty, administration, parents, and alumni of the university. They started an online petition in support of gender-neutral housing at BU, which has more than 2,500 signatures to date.

Mahajan said gender-neutral housing is necessary for students to feel safe at BU. Transgendered and homosexual students as well as anyone who does not fit on the gender binary can feel uncomfortable living with someone of the same sex, he said.

The proposal would allow students to pick their roommates, regardless of gender, he said. The roommates would live in two separate rooms, each with a lock and connected by a bathroom.

Mahajan said he knows of at least 13 schools in Massachusetts and 50 schools in the country with gender-neutral housing. In the Boston-area, Northeastern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Tufts University, and Brandeis University all offer gender-neutral housing options.

“There is a big gap in the current system that students feel needs to be addressed,” he said.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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