There has been a quiet quest for equality on the Cal Poly campus for two years. In 2009, students approached University Housing with a proposal to have gender-neutral housing, which would allow men and women to live together in the same apartment. The policy would help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students feel more at ease in their living situation on campus, as well as help individuals who feel more comfortable rooming with the opposite sex.
Paul Armer, a software engineering sophomore and Pride Center housing liaison, is an advocate for gender-neutral housing. He said it is an issue that will change a lot of people’s lives for the better. Armer himself didn’t spend much time in his dorm on the all-male first floor of Yosemite Hall freshman year because of the pressure he felt to not be open about his sexuality. He said he metaphorically had to go “back into the closet.”
“I feel like your dorm life is a really defining point in your life, because that’s when you really live alone from your parents,” Armer said. “If you are stuck in a place where you are being essentially forced into the closet or being made fun of for being out of the closet, it can really change your life. It can really make you approach new situations differently.”
Gender Equity Center assistant coordinator Veronica Heiskell said the biggest argument against gender-neutral housing is promiscuity.
“(People think) co-habitation means just rampant sex, and they all just go crazy, and that it’s just going to cause a huge amount of promiscuity,” she said. “But in reality, it’s college. People are mature enough to make their own decisions and living in separate rooms in one area is not going to make you any more likely (to be promiscuous) than if you’re living in a hall with someone.”
Last year, gender-neutral housing advocates seemed to gain ground after starting up a pilot program, which is a model for possible future development. Liz Goralka, a history sophomore and president of Spectrum, Cal Poly’s gender and sexuality alliance, signed up for the program along with approximately 30 other students, but it was put on hold because of the president change.
“Basically what it was is that select students were going to be able to live in mixed gender housing, and you could select your roommates or do it at random with anyone who signed up for the program,” Goralka said.
Midsummer, University Housing canceled the program, leaving Goralka without a living situation. Goralka said with the new president undecided at that time, the issue was too controversial to proceed without their consent.
However, Executive Director of University Housing Preston Allen said it was delayed because it needed fine tuning for the electronic assignment process used in normal housing situations. Now, the program is ready to be implemented as soon as Vice President of Student Affairs Cornel Morton and President Jeffrey Armstrong review and approve the program.
Allen said he is for the program, because he said arrangements that enhance the student’s living experience are always a good idea.
“It may not be for a large number of students, but even if it’s just for a handful, I’m all in favor of it,” he said.
The group is ready to start up again in the fall with a small group of students. Implementation will be easy, Preston said, since they took gender-neutral housing into consideration when building Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village, anticipating the interest students might have in gender-neutral rooming.
“They have shared living spaces, two full bathrooms, a common space and private bedrooms,” he said.
The biggest obstacle for the program, Allen said, is making sure students and their parents understand the housing agreement. According to their research, most parents are ok with second year mixed gender housing, as long as the campus is involved.
“I don’t think that gender-neutral housing option will create any problems or challenges other than all the normal things we deal with,” he said.
As for Armstrong, he said he is open to the idea of gender-neutral housing and is ready and waiting to review the proposal.
“We want to provide a living environment where all students are comfortable, including LGBT students,” he said.
Liberal arts and engineering senior Eric Davis said Armstrong has expressed interest in helping the Pride Center before by visiting and speaking personally to them, which the previous president never did.
“I know he’s a big proponent of the minority groups on campus, which surprised me a little bit,” Davis said. “I don’t think he’d have a problem with (gender-neutral housing). I would like to think he would like to see it go into effect.”
Gender-neutral housing policies can be found at many California universities, such as California State University, Humboldt and Stanford. Most universities in the University of California system have some form of gender-neutral or LGBT-friendly housing. The common vein is that they are optional and most have been implemented in the past five years.
This past year, Cal Poly Pomona offered gender-neutral housing to its students. Piya Bose, the area coordinator for university housing at Pomona, said the campus began an optional community for students who were “transgender, gender-queer (and) gender non-conforming” and their allies. Currently, four students are living in the community and the school plans to continue the program next year.
“I think having a safe space to take (care) of life and business and personal things is a really important privilege that some of us take for granted,” Bose said. “And gender-neutral housing can really provide that space for folks within the community.”