Pictured: Pro-gender neutral housing protester; Photo by Rachel Nash
CHAPEL HILL – In a controversial move, UNC System leaders voted unanimously Friday to overturn a UNC-Chapel Hill decision to allow students of the opposite gender to live in the same University dorm suites or apartments. Proponents of the gender-neutral housing plan said the UNC Board of Governors’ decision was based on misinformation.
Rick Bradley, UNC Chapel Hill’s Associate Director of Housing and Residential Education, said the Board of Governors’ decision, affecting all of the system’s 16 campuses, was not a surprise. He said his department was alerted by University officials that the Board was considering banning the policy. Though UNC-CH students begin moving back to campus on Aug. 17, Bradley explained the heads-up gave them time to remove the program and find alternate housing for the four students who had signed up, three females and one male.
“My frustration is that if the people were to actually hear what the program is about then they tend to support the idea,” Bradley said.
Some Carolina students championed the policy for more than a year, saying it would provide a safe option for LGBTQ students who might be targeted because of their sexualities. The UNC Board of Trustees voted last November to allow gender-neutral housing, backed by former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp.
“I would say that it is disappointing, and in most cases, when people take to the time to hear what this program was really about and what it is not about as the Board of Trustees at our university did, they voted unanimously in favor of it upon hearing what is actually involved in it.”
Bradley said he has heard a number of assumptions circulating, one being that gender neutral housing was a taxpayer issue, which is something he said is incorrect.
“Our department does not receive any state-supported funding so student rent dollars pays totally all of our overhead. We receive no state funding. I’m not sure it has a connection to a state-funding issue,” Bradley said.
Thirty-two spaces were made available to students as part of the program, two dorms and Ram Village Apartments. It would have allowed students of the opposite gender to share common living areas and bathrooms, but Bradley explained that a male and female still would not have been allowed to live in the same room.
“I think we’ve heard lots of times that people are referencing that a student could randomly be assigned to someone of the opposite gender. This has always been an opt-in program so it would have been of their choosing to live in this environment so there would not have been any surprise assignments from anyone,” Bradley said.
However, for this upcoming school year, males and females will now be able to live together if they are married, siblings or a parent and child.
UNC System President Tom Ross declined to comment on the Board’s decision Friday, but Chairman Peter Hans offered this:
“Our board wants every student to be safe and comfortable and included. The Board believes there are more practical ways to achieve those goals than assigning young men and young women to the same dorm rooms and campus suites,” Hans said.
The Board of Governors passed the policy ban with out discussion.
Thirty-two public institutions and 66 private institutions across the country provide a gender neutral housing option, according to UNC’s website. Three private North Carolina universities offer the option, one of which is Duke.