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Gender-Neutral Housing, A New Option at St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s joins Mary Washington, Towson and others in instituting progressive housing policy
September 24, 2013
Press Release #13-102

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This fall semester St. Mary’s College of Maryland instituted a gender-neutral housing policy, in which students are given the freedom to choose their roommates independent of gender, sex, sexual identity, or sexual orientation.  Among many reasons, open housing, as it’s referred to, was employed to respond to the needs of students who do not identify with traditional gender norms, and to provide options for all students who feel that they would have a more positive shared-living experience with a roommate of the opposite sex or gender.

“I really support gender-neutral housing and other gender-neutral programs because they build a community among people who may not have otherwise become close,” said psychology major Hannah Felperin ’15. “They break down the boundaries between genders that I think are archaic in our society; they’re from times when even boys weren’t allowed in my mom’s dorm at UMD where she went to college … it’s an idea that we can move past now.”

The college’s Student Government Association has long supported the introduction of gender- neutral housing, and a resolution was finally passed in April 2010 by the SGA in support of the initiative. Since then, the SGA has worked with members of the college community, including members of the administration, to develop the policy.  

“I attended meetings where the content of the policy was discussed,” said Felperin. “We [students] were asked our opinion on the language being used. I’m very satisfied with the wording of our policy.”

Joanne Goldwater, associate dean of students and director of residence life, has said that open housing is a response to the students’ desire to have the option to live together regardless of sex or gender. “Open housing aligns with the college’s commitment to ‘valuing diversity in all its forms,’ ‘social responsibility and civic-mindedness,’ and a ‘spirit of community.’ These things are what make St. Mary’s such a special place,” she said.  

Open housing is one of many initiatives that exist at St. Mary’s to promote, foster and support an inclusive campus environment. Others include clubs like STARS (St. Mary’s Triangle and Rainbow Society) and FUSE (Feminists United for Sexual Equality), as well as academic offerings through the Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGSX) Studies program. And, in 2011, St. Mary’s launched LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) Student Services, a unit within the Office of Student Activities which works to develop monthly programs, services, and resources for the LGBTQ and allied communities on campus. 

St. Mary’s also recently joined the Campus Pride Index, a national listing of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. As a member of the Index, St. Mary’s is also privy to ways to improve LGBTQ campus life and ultimately shape the educational experience to be more inclusive. 

“Prospective students utilize the Campus Pride Index in selecting LGBTQ-friendly schools, and our participation in the Index will allow us to demonstrate the good work we do on campus for LGBTQ students,” said Clint Neill, assistant director of student activities and coordinator for LGBTQ Student Services.

St. Mary’s is among institutions including the University of Maryland College Park, Towson University, Dickinson College, and University of Mary Washington, to name a few, that have instituted gender-neutral housing policies to diversify choices for students. 

“I learned about St. Mary’s plans to implement an open housing policy through a friend during admitted students day,” said first-year student Alex Conrad, who majors in theater. “I immediately thought that would be something I’d want to be a part of. Once I arrived on campus, there was this feeling of ‘I’m not at home anymore,’” he said, “but, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to make this place my home for the next four years.’ Open housing will make it easier, I think, to be LGBTQ on campus.”