Less than two months after ASG resolution, Residential Services rolls out gender-open housing expansion


Owen Stidman / Daily Senior Staffer

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier and Carlos Gonzalez. After speaking to ASG Senate about gender-open housing in February, the two were able to come back with news of the expansion on Wednesday.

Gabby Birenbaum, Campus Editor

When Residential Services and the Office of Student Affairs began brainstorming a potential update to the University’s gender-open housing options and policy, they quickly realized they were not the only ones pursuing this topic.

With the Gender Queer, Non-Binary, Transgender Task Force advocating for expanded housing and Associated Student Government approving a resolution in February calling for gender-open housing to be more attainable and affordable, Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, the associate vice president and chief of staff of student affairs, recognized there was a unique opportunity to act fast.

“What (ASG) brought to us, and what the GQNBT task force recommended, and our own conversations all sort of coalesced at the same time,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “It was literally perfect timing. So, we were able to move forward quickly.”

[Beyond the Binary: NU transgender students face obstacles navigating the housing process]

Less than two months after ASG approved the resolution, Northwestern Residential Services sent out an email to the student body announcing the expansion of their gender-open housing options. Carlos Gonzalez, the director of housing operations and services, said the expansion satisfied every action clause in the ASG resolution.

The expansion provides price point differentiation, new location options and opportunities for first-year and transfer students who want to live in gender-open housing. Gender-open housing accomodations were last addressed in 2013, when single-occupancy rooms in Foster-Walker Complex, Kemper Hall, and eventually 560 Lincoln became available to those looking for gender-open housing.

Gonzalez said that under the 2013 policy, 300 rooms were designated to be gender-open. Now, 150 new double-occupancy rooms in Allison Hall, Elder Hall and Kemper Hall have been added to the gender-open housing portfolio.

Daily file photo by Sherry Li
Allison Hall, where Northwestern plans to expand gender-open housing.

“This is a first step to allow transgender and non-binary students, as well as those students who are interested in gender-open housing, to select lower cost living options in recently renovated residential facilities on both North and South campus,” the Residential Services email said.

Gonzalez said the new locations were chosen intentionally to provide location and price point equity. The double-occupancy rooms in Elder will be included on an as-needed basis once residential services gets a sense of the demand for gender-open rooms.

Communicating the new policy was another challenge that Gonzalez anticipated. Information that had been spread out across the residential services website was consolidated and revamped on the “Gender-Open Housing” subpage. After listening to student feedback, they also expanded the “Frequently Asked Questions” section to include new material.

While the announcement brought applause and praise from ASG Senate, Payne-Kirchmeier emphasized that this expansion is only a first step. Her and Gonzalez’s team will reconvene in the fall after students move in to their on-campus housing to assess how the program rollout went, demand for gender-open housing and potential for evolution. Still, Gonzalez felt that the entire process was overwhelmingly positive and that the collaboration with ASG and other students proved to be essential.

“I don’t think that we would have gotten to this solution without the input of students,” Gonzalez said. “I was pleased to learn once we really pushed the housing system, we were able to do some things that were a little unexpected, to be honest.”

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