ASG passes legislation demanding University immediately expand gender-open housing options


Evan Robinson-Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Elynnor Sandefer speaks at an ASG Senate meeting. Sandefer said the legislation will provide much needed options for transgender and non-binary students.

Atul Jalan, Reporter

Associated Student Government passed legislation asking the University to commit to an “immediate expansion” of gender-open housing options for undergraduate students during Wednesday’s Senate meeting.

Currently, students who opt to live in gender-open housing must choose between singles and suites available in Foster-Walker Complex, 560 Lincoln or Kemper Hall.

Elynnor Sandefer, the Rainbow Alliance senator and author of the legislation, said the current lack of gender-open housing options introduces a host of issues for students including higher living costs, possible isolation and a lack of options for students who wish to live on South Campus.

The legislation seeks to remedy those problems by demanding the University introduce entire floors on which students of various gender identities can live by the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. Bathrooms on these floors would be designated for all-gender use.

“The idea is that someone who selects into gender-open housing will have the understanding that this is a resource for trans and non-binary students primarily and they will not be the type of person to be a horrible transphobe, for example,” Sandefer said.

In the long term, the resolution asks that the University move toward a fully-integrated gender-open housing policy resembling those of Cornell University and the University of Chicago, though such a policy has not been without its critics at either university. An op-ed published in the Chicago Maroon in 2009 called for “the reintroduction of entirely single-sex houses.”

Weinberg Senator Elizabeth Sperti said most students agree that the current option for gender-open housing is too limited.

“This is something that should have been happening a long time ago. It already exists at other peer institutions and it’s working quite well,” Sperti said. “Students should have a choice to live with whomever they want regardless of gender.”

The legislation comes months after a statement from the University expressing its commitment to maintaining protections for transgender and non-binary students. The University released the statement in the wake of a report from the federal government that it may roll back civil rights protections for such individuals.

SESP Senator Soteria Reid said implementing a more expansive gender-open housing policy is an important step the University must take in bolstering those protections.

“There’s a lot of university campuses where the transgender community is very invisible. They don’t get their rights recognized a lot,” Reid said. “This policy of gender-open housing would provide better equality around people who don’t identify with their birth sex and so the gender-open housing policy is a step in the right direction toward providing more equitable housing practices on Northwestern’s campus.”

ASG also passed legislation to establish an ad hoc exploratory committee tasked with examining the feasibility of and developing guidelines for the creation of a Student Advocate’s Office.

ASG President Emily Ash said such an office, as currently imagined, would aid students in navigating University policies pertaining to “issues of conduct, academics and financial aid.”

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— ASG to consider resolution for the expansion of gender-open housing on campus
— Beyond the Binary: NU transgender students face obstacles navigating the housing process