Beginning with the Class of 2018, freshmen will have access to gender-neutral housing on East Campus.
The details of implementation are still being solidified, but the gender-neutral communities will not limit students from participating in living communities, said Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez. He noted that students can work with housing on a case-by-case basis to have their needs met. In addition, all selective living groups will have the option of becoming gender-neutral. The changes follow months of collaboration among administrators, Duke Students for Gender Neutrality and representatives of Duke Student Government.
“DSG has always supported a robust and inclusive gender-neutral housing policy that included first-year students,” said senior Stefani Jones, president of DSG. “It’s important that we extend the same rights and privileges to first-years as we do all students on campus.”
The Duke community should be inclusive of all students, Jones noted.
“The key is not just that first-years now have access to the gender neutral housing program, but that all students do,” she said. “Administrators had treated the individual campus programs as pilots for a larger one, so I think it seemed natural to expand the program after it was successful.”
Housing, Dining and Residence Life first approved gender-neutral housing on Central Campus—in 215 and 221 Anderson Street, 1914 Lewis Street and 2015 Yearby Street—for the 2011-12 academic year. The opt-in housing expanded to West Campus in houses Kilgo O, P, M, N and Upper Few HH this year.
“When this whole transition started, it was always with the premise that it was going to be phased,” Gonzalez said. “The plans have always had East in mind, but it was sort of like the last domino. We felt like after what we have experienced so far, we were comfortable knocking over that last domino.”
Previously, selective living groups could only opt to become gender-neutral if they had three separate bathrooms—one male, one female and one gender-neutral. Beginning next year, all SLGs will be able to vote to become gender-neutral, regardless of their bathroom situation. These votes would have to be unanimous in order to pass, Gonzalez said.
Junior Jacob Zionce, DSG vice president for residential life, worked closely with HDRL to encourage students to take advantage of gender-neutral options.
“Gender-neutral on West and Central have definitely been successful,” he said. “We have been getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from students living in gender-neutral, and as the option becomes more well-known I’d expect the number of students opting into gender-neutral to grow.”
Sophomore Daniel Kort, president of Blue Devils United, lives in a gender-neutral dormitory on West Campus with a female roommate, but he noted that he is unaware of another set of opposite-gendered roommates on West.
“Our community could greatly benefit from a more cohesive unit of students who both support and take advantage of gender-neutral housing,” Kort said. “I look forward to upcoming years when this option is better utilized.”
Although he said he feels the resource is not fully taken advantage of, Kort noted it is very important for students to have the option to live in a gender-neutral setting.
“Gender-neutral housing is a great way for Duke to affirm its commitment to the LGBTQ community,” Kort said. “These halls are the safest places for trans and genderqueer students to avoid harassment. First-year students should not be barred from this opportunity.”
Gonzalez echoed this sentiment, noting the popularity of gender-neutral options does not necessarily dictate its success.
“There are some students that are benefitting a great deal,” Gonzalez said.
The number of students with roommates of different genders is “very small,” he noted, but there were many students who expressed a desire to live in the community.
“Our supply currently meets the demand that is out there,” he said. “There is always the possibility that we need more gender-neutral communities in independent houses. We aren’t at that point right now, but that can always change.”
Gonzalez said that in addition to designating a dorm—or a portion of a dorm—as gender-neutral, the HDRL housing assignments team will also be working with individual students to find gender-neutral housing plans that work for them. The plans have not been finalized, he said, but Wilson Residence Hall is under consideration for the gender-neutral community because of its suite-style bathrooms.
“We would never want to create a situation where a student would feel like they could either participate in a program—like FOCUS—or have their housing needs accommodated more fully,” Gonzalez said.
Additionally, members of the incoming freshman class will have more options for identifying their gender when applying for housing, Gonzalez noted. Currently, students can choose male, female or transgender. HDRL, however, is looking into providing more options, or even a write-in section, Gonzalez said.
Zionce noted that, though the collective policy change is a major milestone towards making Duke an inclusive community for all of its students, they will continue to strive for improvement.
“In the coming weeks and months I expect the team to reconvene to analyze what steps, if any, should come next,” Zionce said. “Right now, though, I think we are all just reveling in how far gender-neutral housing, and Duke on the whole, have come over the past two years.”