Several lawmakers in North Carolina are trying to stop a new University of North Carolina (UNC) policy that grants gender-neutral housing for students. They do so in opposition to an initiative originally led by students in collaboration with the LGBT center.
The UNC Board of Trustees voted unanimously in November 2012 to approve a policy allowing for mix-gender suites in campus dorms and mix-gender apartments starting in the Fall 2013 semester at the university’s Chapel Hill campus. Under the new policy, opposite-sex students are eligible to share a suite with a common bathroom, but could not live in the same room.
A bill was filed April 2nd in the state legislature that could challenge the university’s decision. The proposal sponsored by state Sens. David Curtis (R-Gatson), Ben Clark (D-Cumberland), and Chad Barefoot (R- Franklin), restricts gender-neutral housing to siblings and legally married students with a valid marriage license.
“The purpose of this bill is to help the UNC system regain its focus on the core mission of educating young people and helping them find meaningful employment in our state,” said Curtis in a news release. “UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments.”
Housing and Residential Education Assistant Director Rick Bradley told 429Magazine that economic concerns over the policy are simply unwarranted.
“There are no additional costs associated with this policy,” he said. “We’re only assigning students to space that’s already there and there are no modifications to any existing space.”
Bradley added that the gender-neutral policy, which was a mostly student led initiative in collaboration with the LGBT center, was intended to help all students feel safer on campus. He said many LGBT-identified students found random assignments to roommates to be problematic and felt more comfortable with members of the opposite sex. He said he cannot speculate as to why lawmakers would be against the housing change.
Campus Pride Executive Director, Shayne Windmeyer, argued that inclusive housing is crucial for students in the LGBT community, citing that less than 7% of institutions of higher education have inclusive discrimination policies with regard to gender identity and expression of transgender students, faculty and staff.
So far the UNC administration and local leadership have been supportive of gender-neutral housing and skeptical over what some view as micro-management by the state legislature.
“It’s kind of shocking. The leadership— the members of this legislature speak often about the importance of local control and self-determination,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told a local news organization.
UNC system president Tim Ross added that the UNC system and the university already has checks and balances in place to ensure that university policies are sound.
Currently there are 38 spaces available for the gender-neutral housing program. It is an opt-in policy and no student will be forced to live in gender-neutral dorms or apartments.