The 1112 Porter Street Annex, also known as the Beach House, will be available for gender-neutral housing beginning next semester. The annex will offer housing for seven male and female students who are sophomores or older. Students will share a house with both male and female occupants, though they will not be able to live in the same room.
“This has happened before, but every time we’ve seen gender-neutral housing it’s been using a different alias like the I-Space, the E-House and Christian Living,” said Phillip Carlisle, Indianapolis, Ind., sophomore and a representative for student senate.
The approach to this housing option is focused primarily on the gender-neutral aspect, rather than another attribute of those living in the house such as a shared academic interest.
“Even though final decisions [of who lives in the house] are made by administration and Residential Life, a lot of groundwork was laid in Student Senate,” Carlisle said. “We headed things up from the student perspective, and I think that helped to show the administration from the beginning that this was something students cared deeply about.”
Albion’s administration is using the new housing option as an opportunity to be progressive and forward-thinking.
“It was available last year, but in a different fashion,” said Michael Wadsworth, director for residential life. “[The] 507 Erie Street annex, also known as the Owl House, had a gender-neutral option, but all applicants had to be seniors, and there were no students who signed up to live there.”
Residential Life is currently reviewing applications for the housing option, primarily based on two essay questions asking why the interested student is an advocate for gender-awareness.
Though it was mostly a student-driven initiative, Wadsworth added that administration typically looks at other schools with similar housing options to investigate the success of those options.
“Just about any college campus you see today has some kind of gender-neutral housing option, and I think it’s very important that we are keeping up with the times in that matter,” Wadsworth said. “But regardless of whether we went out and found it at other schools, if our students had expressed interest, we would have looked into it.”
Residential Life and administration plans to evaluate the housing option and its results over the course of the 2013-14 school year. Prior to room selection for the following school year, they will determine whether or not to continue the option and potentially expand upon it.
Students have mentioned the importance the new housing option could have for members of gender or sexual minorities.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Steve Lenze, Belleville first-year. “I’m happy to see the campus becoming more accepting and progressive.”
Carlisle, too, addressed what the new option could mean to the LGBTQ community.
“It’s so easy for the voice of the minority to be lost, to be under-represented, to be silenced,” Carlisle said. “If a student feels uncomfortable – based upon their gender or sexuality – to live in a specific type of housing arrangement, changes need to be made.
Carlisle added that conventional housing doesn’t work for everyone.
“Say there was a hallway of 39 male students and one female student, does it matter what the 39 males think if one female may be uncomfortable?” asked Carlisle. “When it boils down to it, though, students should be granted the freedom to make their own life choices, and that’s what Albion’s administration is letting us do.”
Photo courtesy of Residential Life