More than 50 colleges and universities across the nation have gender-neutral housing policies, according to the 2010 Campus Equality Index from genderblind.org, including Northwestern University and the University of Michigan in the Big Ten.
MSU’s recently passed policy will provide a total of 80 spaces in North Wonders and West McDonel halls beginning this fall that allows students of any gender to live together.
But what makes MSU unique in implementing the policy is the size of its residence hall system, RHA President Sarah Pomeroy said.
Similar gender-neutral housing policies are less common at larger universities like MSU, with about 15,000 on-campus residents, which makes RHA’s policy pioneering for similarly sized schools, she said.
“That size is definitely a huge factor that makes it cooler that we can offer all kinds of options, including flexible housing options,” Pomeroy said.
U-M houses about 10,000 undergraduates on campus, according to its website, and gender-neutral housing is available on a case-by-case basis.
Kathy Collins, director of Campus Living Services and Residence Life, said last week she talked with other institutions who have implemented similar policies to gauge how it might work at MSU.
She said the available flexible housing is an overestimation of demand based on the first year demand at other schools, but she said the demand likely will increase in future years.
RHA pushed for flexible housing on campus for more than a year, with the help of the student-run group Gender Neutral MSU last year.
Rachel Skylis, an MSU alumna and co-founder of Gender Neutral MSU, said she researched other gender-neutral housing policies before drafting one for MSU.
She said colleges and universities that have implemented similar policies usually are Ivy League schools or smaller liberal arts colleges.
However, the campaign at MSU has followed recent similar policies enacted by Syracuse University and University of Oregon, each of which accommodate about 80 students.
“Although it took a while, to be willing to implement it this upcoming fall is huge,” Skylis said. “It definitely says great things.”
Secondary education sophomore Audrey DiComo said although she probably would not utilize the policy herself, most college students are responsible enough to make their own decisions about who they want to live with.
For DiComo, putting in place a flexible housing option highlights the variety of students who live in the residence halls.
“It says MSU is a school that appreciates diversity on campus, (and is) open to the fact that not all 47,000 students are the same,” she said.
Skylis said gender-neutral housing, regardless of the size of school, is relatively new and not something people considered 10 years ago.
“What’s exciting is that MSU has joined the movement but also (as) one of the largest universities to be gender neutral,” she said. “MSU joined early and really stood up for the cause.”