Rowan is introducing a new housing policy in time for the Fall 2016 semester, which calls for the removal of gender-based restrictions in certain residence halls and apartments around campus.
According to Rowan, traditional gender-based restrictions prevent students from living with whom they are most comfortable, and may create living situations that feel unsafe or increase the possibility of gender-related incidents on campus.
By eliminating these restrictions, the university administration hopes to give students greater control and more options when forming roommate groups during housing selection. This is of particular interest for students who identify as transgender or who do not identify with a particular gender, as well as for other lesbian, gay and bisexual students who prefer roommates who may have genders different from their own.
The gender-neutral housing option has been available at Rowan on a limited basis, and has worked for the students who have requested it. The student body has also expressed support for the plan.
In a 2014 survey of Rowan Students, according to a press release, 71 percent of respondents indicated they felt students of any gender should be able to share an apartment or suite, and a combined 50 percent indicated they were somewhat or very likely to select this option if it were available.
The university has been working on the plan for about a year, and it will be available in all apartment buildings and at Holly Pointe Commons. However, according to administration, it will not be available in traditional residence halls with gender-restricted bathrooms, such as Willow and Magnolia Halls.
A press release from university housing states: “This option is only for those who specifically agree to it. Students are not required to accept an assignment to a space with a person of another gender.”
Travis Douglas, the Vice President for Residential Learning and Inclusion Programs, has experience with implementing this policy at other colleges.
“I have previously managed student housing where this option was available and students typically got along well with the roommates they chose to live with in gender-inclusive groups,” Douglas said. “It has also been done at many other universities and they have had positive results overall.”
Douglas did, however, urge caution with the new process.
“We do not encourage couples of any gender combination to live together because that can make it much more difficult for roommates to resolve concerns, and if the relationship ends, it complicates things more than when they live apart.”
Ashley Plunkett, a sophomore biomedical engineering student, was enthusiastic about the new policy. She feels that it benefits students across campus, including herself.
“Specifically for me as a transgender student, it lifts a problem that prevented me from rooming with people who match my own gender identity,” she said. “I don’t mind living with anyone because of their gender, but knowing that if I want to, I can room with other girls regardless of my trans-status is very comforting.”