UW-La Crosse has passed a rule to allow gender-neutral suite-style housing starting next fall and UW-River Falls is taking steps to follow in that direction as well.
“For myself as a director, I am in support of upper classmen suite-style gender-neutral housing,” said Sandi Scott Duex, director of Residence Life and Students Rights and Responsibilities. “I think it would support our core value of inclusivity.”
Scott Duex said that there is currently a proposal being considered by the executive cabinet for the Board of Regents, but it may be some time before the decision is made to allow gender-neutral housing on campus.
The current proposal is for South Fork Suites to be able to house both men and women together in a suite. However, living with both male and female students would not be forced. Students would have the choice to live in an all male, an all female or a gender-neutral suite.
“It meets all of the requirements for the Board of Regents policy,” said Gregg Heinselman. associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs.
The Board of Regents housing rules and regulations states, “Coeducational housing in the University of Wisconsin System, as implemented under the conditions of this policy, shall be construed to mean men and women occupying separate living areas by floor or room.”
South Fork Suites abide by those requirements because every student will have their own private room that can be locked. Each suite also has a private bathroom that is secured and locked from other students living in the building.
Both Scott Duex and Heinselman said that South Fork Suites would still remain as junior and senior housing and it gives an alternative for those wanting a co-ed living experience to have that option of staying on campus.
“The earliest it could happen would be for the 2014-2015 school year,” Scott Duex said.
If the Executive Cabinet passes the proposal, it will then go to the Residence Hall Association (RHA) on campus and the Chancellor for approval. Heinselman said that in order to have this new arrangement for South Fork Suites, it would need to be approved by December 2013 by both the Executive Cabinet and RHA.
Residence Life would need time to market the new living option as well as adjust the software for housing sign up to support a new assignment before housing sign-up for the following year begins. Student Senate President Bobbi O’Brien said she feels conflicted about the potential new housing option.
“I don’t see why it would be a bad idea to have it but I don’t see why it would be a good thing either,” O’Brien said. “My concerns are not personally on how I view this, but how parents will.”
Although the proposal for South Fork Suites will not have to go to Senate for approval, Senate does have the option to get involved by bringing in RHA and the director of Residence Life and have them present why they are for it.
“Student Senate could pass a resolution to pass it, or say they were against it,” O’Brien said. However as of right now, O’Brien doesn’t see Senate getting involved. Scott Duex explained that students want to be treated like adults and those students who want to have a co-ed living experience decide to live off campus. However, if this new housing arrangement passes, they can have the option of staying on campus and still be treated like adults.
UW System schools such as UW-La Crosse, UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee have accepted a gender-neutral model for campus living. UW-La Crosse will allow male and female students to live together in suite style dorms, UW-Milwaukee will begin offering inclusive housing in the fall for LGBTQ students and UW-Madison is offering a living option called Open House: Gender Learning Community where students of all backgrounds and identities can live there while participating in weekly seminars.
Both Scott Duex and Heinselman agree it’s time for UWRF to take that step as well.
“I think it’s time for us to embrace this model. We want to be an inclusive campus and I believe that this will help us do that,” Heinselman said.