University downsizes Gender Protection Initiative proposal

Sammy Caiola

An ongoing initiative to implement gender-open housing on campus was set back again this March when the administration denied most requests in a proposal presented by the Gender Protection Initiative.

The GPI is an on-campus organization that exists to protect the interests of transgender students, GPI President Zach Wichter said. For the past two years they have been working on gender-open housing, a space on campus where people of any gender can live.

On Jan. 21, the GPI presented a proposal to the Housing and Food Service Policy Advisory Committee, requesting space in 1835 Hinman as well as in Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. They asked that the program be open to freshmen and for unisex bathrooms, Wichter said. In addition, they hoped to change the application process so that gender-open housing could be an option on the regular housing form.

The package that was approved was a gender-open hall on Floor 2, House 8 of Foster-Walker Complex. It is a hall of singles clustered around unisex bathrooms. The program will not be open for incoming freshmen.

Wichter said this was not the result they had hoped for.

“The immediate reaction was extreme frustration, bordering on anger. It was not at all what we were expecting,” Wichter said. “I didn’t expect them to take away things they had already granted. I didn’t think in the process we’d lose having mix- gender rooms.”

Mary Goldenberg, co-chair of the advisory committee, said that with any housing request, the committee will review proposals, see the presentation, discuss concerns and make a recommendation to Bill Banis, vice president of student affairs.

When reviewing the proposal, Goldenberg said the group discussed the fact that when students were requesting gender-open rooms last year, more asked for singles than doubles. She said when looking at locations, Foster-Walker seemed to meet the requirements while allowing for unisex bathrooms.

“The committee is very good and very fair about taking into account the recommendations brought forth to them,” Goldenberg said. “The committee took into account that last year gender open was a pilot, and though the number may not have been as high as they’d hoped, they saw a need to continue it as an option.”

The gender-open housing program debuted in fall 2010 in 1835 Hinman, in a wing on the third floor where students had the choice to room alone, with a member of the opposite sex or with a member of the same sex. It is a hall of singles and doubles clustered around male-only and female-only bathrooms. It currently houses Medill sophomore and Daily staffer Dan Q. Tham and his female roommate, the only mixed-gender couple, as well as a number of singles.

During the spring of last year, students were able to request gender-open housing by submitting an essay to GPI advisor Doris Dirks. But Wichter said it was difficult to recruit people for the program because they had no access to incoming freshmen and little time to advertise.

In an attempt to avoid these difficulties, the group met with Mark D’Arienzo,, associate director of University Housing, on several occasions to discuss ideas and try to craft a proposal that would appease all sides, Wichter said. They presented their requests to the Housing and Food Services Committee on Jan. 21, about a month earlier than they had presented the 2010-11 proposal, Wichter said.

Goldenberg said the GPI proposal was considered along with the exclusive-use housing proposals, which were all given to Banis for approval at once, regardless of what time they were presented. For this reason, the GPI did not receive a verdict until Reading Week of Spring Quarter.

“Part of the reason we started the process so early and were ready to present in January was that we wanted to get it through early to have sufficient time to advertise it,” Wichter said. “That obviously didn’t work out. It was really frustrating.”

As of now, any student can sign up for gender-open housing by directly contacting GPI, which is currently recruiting residents for the fall. Incoming freshmen will be able to sign up only on a case-by-case basis, Goldenberg said. The program is still in its beginning stages, but D’Arienzio said he thinks it will be successful in due time.

“Numbers are going to speak very loudly,” D’Arienzio said. “If you show that you need more space and show that there’s interest in it, the program will grow.”

Tham, who currently rooms with female friend Annie Ormson in 1835 Hinman, said only having singles defeats the purpose of the program. He also said the program “should cater to the needs of everyone, including incoming freshmen.”

“I’m currently the only guy living (in on-campus housing) with a girl, and it’s been awesome,” Tham said. “I don’t know if you can call it gender-neutral housing if it’s not like that.”

The GPI will try a different advertising strategy this year, Wichter said. The group will promote the space as an alternative housing option for groups of friends who do not want to be segregated by gender, rather than a space for members of the LGBT community.

Dirks said the program may not sit well with parents, who think students are “just going to be having sex.” She said she believes that although older people may not approve, students would be open to it and that the program does have a future.

“This place moves very slowly and tends to be conservative in terms of the status quo,” Dirks said of NU. “Part of it is reputation, some of it is campus culture. I think as long as there are students who care, administrators who care, the program has the potential to maintain itself and be successful.”

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