Ithaca College recently announced its new open–housing policy — a housing option that enables students to select roommates regardless of their sex or gender.
Bonnie Prunty, director of the Office of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs and assistant dean for First–Year Experiences, and Linda Koenig, Residential Life representative and assistant director for housing services and communications, wrote the proposal and first put it forward in Spring 2015. On Feb. 15, Prunty met with the President’s Council to discuss the proposal, and Koenig said she heard about the approval Feb. 16.
“I believe this policy will allow our students the flexibility to live in the kind of roommate/apartment arrangement that makes them most comfortable,” Prunty said.
The Office of Residential Life then sent an email about the open–housing option to students Feb. 18. Freshmen Anna Gardner and Joe Simpson plan on utilizing the open–housing policy in the fall.
“I get along really well with my friend Joe,” Gardner said. “So once I saw that email, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Campus Pride, an organization that promotes LGBT-friendly campuses, reports that over 200 colleges and universities have similar policies.
Although Gardner said deciding to live with Simpson was a quick decision, Residential Life spent the past three semesters working on this housing option.
When first proposed in Spring 2015, Koenig and Prunty were told by President Tom Rochon that the proposal mentioned mainly the benefits, but it lacked information on possible drawbacks.
Koenig said one of the concerns of allowing students of the opposite sex to live together is that couples would choose to be roommates.
“I don’t share that fear — I also think it’s a super heteronormative way to look at it because LGBT students could live with a romantic partner now,” Koenig said. “I think students are smarter than to live with a significant other.”
Once members of Residential Life compiled more information, they had to wait for Benjamin Rifkin, the college’s new provost and vice president for educational affairs, to begin his job.
In Fall 2015, Residential Life delayed submitting the updated proposal due to the school’s shifting its focus to addressing issues of racism on campus. Koenig said the proposal was submitted in December.
Rifkin voted to approve the proposal. He said students should have the ability to act like adults.
“We don’t have to ask anything other than the fact that you and your proposed roommate both would like to do this,” Rifkin said. “And it grows out of respect for our students as adults that can make adult choices.”
Along with giving students an enhanced sense of respect and responsibility, the open–housing policy can promote a more inclusive living environment for transgender students, Koenig said.
Previously, if a student identified as transgender or gender nonconforming, they had the option to meet with Luca Maurer, program director for the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Education, Outreach and Services, to discuss a new living arrangement. Maurer would then work with Koenig to accommodate and arrange the student’s desired request.
With the open–housing policy, Koenig said, transgender students no longer need to have this conversation with Maurer.
Students who wish to participate in the new housing process will have the option of living in the Garden Apartments, Circle Apartments, Emerson Hall or Terraces coed–by–door rooms. Open housing will begin in Fall 2016 for rising sophomores, juniors or seniors. Rifkin said it will not yet be available to freshmen unless they identify as transgender.
“There’s so much involved with the transition to college. We want to try to reduce the variables,” Rifkin said.
Freshman Kayla Hurowitz, a student who identifies as female, said the policy will be beneficial for transgender students.
“I do feel that having policies such as this makes it a lot easier for me and other students in similar situations,” Hurowitz said. “I also think students should be trusted to decide who they live with, regardless of gender.”
Since the policy is new, Digital Instruction and Information Services has not designed an update to HomerConnect for students of different sexes to choose housing together. Rifkin said DIIS has been asked to address this.
“Right now, our software for the housing selection office does not allow coed in a room,” Rifkin said. “We have now officially asked our colleagues in DIIS … to set this up for us. When they will get to that, I don’t know.”
Gardner said the new program is a progressive step for the college.
“I think it’s a really wonderful option, and it really is getting Ithaca College ahead in understanding that there is not a gender binary,” Gardner said. “I think it’s a step toward safer housing for everybody.”