Princeton, UPenn, Chicago Now Offer ‘Gender-Neutral Housing' for Undergrads

Christopher Goins | May 3, 2012 | 4:29pm EDT
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Princeton's Nassau Hall (AP photo)

( - Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago – three of the nation’s Top 10 universities – now offer “gender-neutral housing,” but none of the schools say they are opening up dormitories specifically to transgendered students, as Dartmouth recently announced.

Princeton, which is tied with Harvard as the top ranked university in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report rankings, says it does not keep track of how many Lesbian/Gay/Bi-sexual/Transsexual (LGBT) students attend the school.

“Our students are not required to report their LGBT status, so we don't have that number,’ Princeton spokesman Martin A. Mbugua told “However, you may be aware that Princeton University is an LGBT-friendly campus.”

Princeton does offer “gender-neutral housing” (GNH) options, he said. Gender-neutral housing means that students of one sex can have dormitory roommates of the opposite sex.

“For the past two years, we have offered a GNH pilot program, which was expanded during Room Draw for the next academic year to include additional spaces in upper-class housing,” Mbugua wrote in an e-mail.

“The decision to expand the program was based on input from students, including written submissions, meetings with student government representatives, and findings from the Undergraduate Housing Demand Survey conducted in December.”

Mbugua added that the university has seen a “growing interest” among students seeking gender-neutral housing.

“In 2010-11, nine groups with a total of 36 students successfully applied for Gender-Neutral Housing,” Mbugua said. “In 2011-12, 14 groups with a total of 56 students applied for gender neutral housing.”

There are 7,724 students at Princeton, 5,142 of whom are undergraduates. Undergrad tuition, fees and room-and-board cost parents $53,934 during 2011-2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics Web site.

The University of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, says it plans to allow freshmen to room with people of the opposite sex, beginning this fall.

“Penn has gender-neutral housing,” said Ron Ozio, director of media relations. “So students at Penn who wish to can apply, can have roommates that are not of the same sex as they are.”

But gender-neutral housing has been the norm at Penn for everyone except freshman for some time now, Ozio said.

“It’s allowed at Penn at every level for undergraduates. Or at least it will be at every level starting this fall,” Ozio said. “It’s been that way for several years, although we have excluded freshmen. However, by the fall, it will include freshmen who are at least 18-years-old. So in that sense there’s not really a boy’s dorm or a girl’s dorm at Penn.”

Under the school's policy, male students can room with female students, Ozio said.

“There are some rules about that,” Ozio said. “You have to be open to it. A girl would never be assigned to a boy as a roommate or vice versa--just randomly. They’d have to say they were open to it.”

Ozio explained that the previous rule was that if a male wanted to have a female as a roommate, both parties would have to say they wanted to have an opposite sex roommate and specify who it is.

“Now that the rule is not that anymore, you can just check a box that says you’re open to it. But no one is assigned an opposite-sex roommate without their consent,” he continued.

Ozio said that “presumably” would apply to transgender students. Like Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania does not ask if a student is transgender on its application, and the university does not keep track of how many transgender students there are, Ozio said.

The University of Chicago, meanwhile, has offered a gender-neutral housing option since January 2009. The program is offered to all students beyond their first year in college. First-year students are excluded from this option.

“It is important that we create an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and supportive of our students,” a 2008 university announcement read. “Making gender-neutral housing an option for students who do not find traditional same-sex room assignments ideal or appropriate connects directly to the University’s diversity mission.”

In 2007, the student-governing body for the University of Chicago’s housing system -- the Inter-House Council -- passed a resolution expressing the need for a gender-neutral housing option, dubbed “Open Housing.” The move, the university acknowledges, is a part of a growing national trend in higher education institutions.

Tuition, fees and room-and-board for 2011-2012 at Chicago amounted to $59,950.

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