The University has formally approved five gender-neutral, unaffiliated houses for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Duke Housing, Dining and Residence Life will implement gender-neutral housing in three unaffiliated West Campus houses: two houses in Kilgo Quadrangle and one house in Few Quadrangle. HDRL also plans to have two independent gender-neutral houses on Central Campus. After the University agreed to implement gender-neutral housing on West Campus in April, HDRL began a review of the current housing model in order to assess the necessary changes. In a recent survey, the majority of students either support or were indifferent toward gender-neutral housing.
“The discomfort came in when people were asked ‘Would you be comfortable sharing a bathroom with a student of the opposite gender?’” said Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez. “That’s when the answers started changing.”
As a result of this survey, HDRL wanted to keep at least two single-gender bathrooms available in houses that became gender-neutral, Gonzalez said. In their summer assessment, there were different levels of difficulty of transforming current houses to gender-neutral. Current houses with three bathrooms—known as Level One houses—are easiest to change because they would allow room for separate male, female and co-ed bathrooms. Houses with just one bathroom would be much more difficult to become gender-neutral.
The new changes will allow for students living in gender-neutral housing to have the option to use a bathroom designated for their gender only, but they might have to take a stairwell to a bathroom on another floor.
“If a few people have to change their daily routine a little bit, that is a price we should pay for the benefits to our Duke community,” said junior Jacob Tobia, co-president of Duke Students for Gender Neutrality. “It’s not going to hugely inconvenience anyone by any measure.”
Tobia noted that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has recently taken steps to implement gender-neutral housing.
“If a state school like UNC can do this where they are subject to North Carolina state legislature, then there is absolutely no reason Duke should not have done this five years ago,” he said. “It’s almost pathetic that UNC and Duke are reaching this conclusion at around the same time.”
Although he said there was noticeable resistance, Tobia is “ecstatic” about the changes. He said it is a huge step forward for the University and that is a way to show how much Duke values not just the LGBT community, but gender equality too. Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said he was not aware of any resistance to gender-neutral housing.
“Fundamentally, we’ve always been quite supportive of introducing and expanding gender-neutral options,” he said. “We’re continuing to move and expand options as the communities needs are identified.”
Tobia contends that the administration is not nearly as supportive as he would like and showed resistance until DSGN threatened to hold a demonstration.
“We have a cowardly administration that is unwilling to be leaders on anything,” he said. “We just wait for our colleagues in the Ivy League to do something, and then we think about it.”
As for the future of gender neutral-housing at Duke, Tobia said he will continue to advocate for the expansion of gender-neutral housing on West and Central Campuses, as well as an introduction to East Campus.
Moneta added that as long as there is a continued need for gender-neutral housing, the options will continue to grow.
“I don’t think there is an end game in mind,” he said. “We have been supportive of gender-neutral housing from the get-go and will continue to work with the students.”