Freshmen in the Class of 2016 will have the option of housing with roommates of either gender.
Penn has offered upperclassmen gender-neutral housing since 2004, and student groups and administrators have been working over the past year to extend the option to freshmen.
“Benefits of the project include gender equality, increased personal freedom and an actual simplification of the housing process for administrators, staff and students alike,” Undergraduate Assembly President and rising Wharton and Engineering senior Tyler Ernst wrote in an email.
The effort to offer gender-neutral housing for freshmen was spearheaded by the UA, the Residential Advisory Board and the Lambda Alliance, Penn’s LGBT umbrella group. The groups worked closely with Housing Services and the College Houses to evaluate and implement the idea.
The policy change was informally approved a few months ago by the Provost’s office according to Ernst, and was made official during a meeting of Penn’s trustees last Thursday.
“The UA, RAB and the Lambda Alliance made this a priority in tandem and it received nothing but support from the University administration,” Ernst wrote.
Incoming Wharton freshman Alex-Sandra Del Canal agreed with the decision to offer next year’s batch of incoming freshman the gender-neutral option. “It would give some freshmen the ability to have an easier transition into college since they would feel more comfortable rooming with members of the opposite sex,” she wrote in an email. “Examples are girls like me who tend to get along more with the boys or homosexual individuals who would also feel more comfortable with the opposite sex.”
Although many schools offer gender-neutral housing to upperclassmen, Penn is ahead of other institutions in extending the policy to freshmen.
According to a 2010 National Student Genderblind Campaign report, Brown and Dartmouth universities offer gender-neutral housing to just upperclassmen, and the option is available only to self-identified transgender students at Harvard University.
“Penn now has one of the most progressive housing policies in the nation,” UA Speaker and rising College senior Cynthia Ip said. “I hope that this policy will prove to be a success and give our peer institutions the confidence to enact similar policies.”
Each year about 200 students request gender-neutral housing, and it is expected that freshmen will add to that number, according to Business Services spokeswoman Barbara Lea-Kruger.
“I do expect that the policy will be taken advantage of immediately, and in growing numbers as time goes on,” rising College senior John Gee, a member of the Residential Advisory Board, wrote in an email. “I imagine it will take some time until the incoming freshmen are fully informed about the policy, so making sure it’s well-publicized and -implemented is obviously the next job for student government.”
Although the formal change to the housing application will not go into effect until next year, some incoming freshmen said they would take advantage of the option of gender-neutral housing.
“I definitely would consider gender-neutral housing,” Del Canal wrote. “I have often complained to fellow friends that I wish I could just room with a guy because girls tend to be very catty or clingy, while males tend to be low maintenance.”
Meanwhile, incoming College freshman Forrest Grossman said that while he would not consider gender-neutral housing for himself, he does believe that freshmen should have the option. “Who is the University to tell a student who they can and cannot room with?” Grossman wrote in an email.
In addition to the expansion of gender-neutral housing to freshmen, the Lambda Alliance, RAB and the UA were able to add a new transgender policy in the newest housing brochure and are working on other initiatives to make Penn more comfortable for transgender students.
“We are working on a project to get more (and hopefully someday all) of the restrooms on campus to be gender-neutral,” Lambda Alliance Chair and rising College senior Corinne Rich wrote in an email.