An informal student committee, which included members of Program Board’s Queer and Ally Student Assembly and Undergraduate Student Government, launched a petition on Thursday night urging that USC housing — both on and off campus — be expanded to include gender-neutral housing options.
USC students have been advocating for gender-neutral housing at USC since at least 2011, when QuASA member organization Trojans for Equality drafted a proposal for gender-neutral housing. When the proposal was submitted to Residential Education, however, ResEd deemed it unnecessary for the university at the time, and it was retracted.
Since that proposal, research and advocacy regarding gender-neutral housing at USC has increased exponentially.
In October 2011, USG Director of Diversity Affairs Josh DeMilta conducted an online survey regarding student opinions on gender-inclusive housing. The survey responses suggested that almost 80 percent of the 530 student participants would be supportive of a pilot program allowing students of opposite genders to live together.
It wasn’t until March 2012, however, that the USG Senate passed a resolution proposing a pilot program for gender-inclusive housing on the Rainbow Floor, a special interest community for LGBT students and allies in Century Apartments.
The pilot program, launched in fall 2012, designated two apartments on the Rainbow Floor as gender-inclusive. According to university policy, roommates were still required to be the same gender, but the gender-inclusive apartments could house two legally male-identifying students in one bedroom and two legally female-identifying students in the other bedroom.
This year, the pilot program expanded to allow all Rainbow Floor residents (excluding first-year students) to live in gender-inclusive apartments.
“[The pilot program] is getting there, but what we need is a process that allows people to not disclose their identities because there are students who are not binary-identified,” said Alyssa Coffey, who will serve as the 2014-2015 QuASA executive director.
The reason the pilot program, with gender-inclusive housing options, still seems limiting to some students is because it still doesn’t offer a truly gender-neutral option.
“The distinction [between gender-inclusive and gender-neutral] is very slight but very important,” said Quyen Nguyen-Le, co-president of Queer People of Color.
Gender-inclusive housing still requires gender identity to be considered in the roommate matching process, and roommates in the same bedroom must still have the same legal gender identity — male or female. This option is inclusive only in that apartment-mates living in different bedrooms can be of the opposite gender.
Gender-neutral housing, on the other hand, does not consider gender when matching roommates. Instead, students of any gender identity can live in the same bedroom with students of any other gender identity.
On April 15, the committee of students advocating for gender-neutral housing options will present their resolution to the USG senate. The resolution proposes that by the 2015-2016 academic year, students will be able to opt in to gender-neutral housing in apartment- or suite-style USC housing facilities.
In addition to this proposal, the students advocating for gender neutral housing are also collaborating with both the Residential Education and Housing departments to logistically work out the details of incorporating gender-neutral housing into the existing USC housing options.
The petition is intended to demonstrate student support for gender-neutral housing both to USG and to USC’s administration.
“[We’re trying to] show the university that this is not a special interest community that wants to get something for themselves,” Coffey said. “It’s something that the student body sees as necessary.”
The petition garnered over 300 signatures within the first 48 hours of being launched.
“I definitely believe that the petition is a great way to get the attention of the students and show the administration that students do care about this issue,” said Dylan Lee, who will serve as the 2014-2015 QuASA assistant director.
Lee also spoke about the benefits that the proposed gender-neutral housing option will have for students.
“[Gender-neutral housing] accommodates all gender identities so that there’s a safe space for anyone who may not identify within a gender binary or is trans or just wants a safe housing option that they can feel comfortable in,” Lee said.
Robby Sachs, a junior majoring in business administration and the current resident advisor on the Rainbow Floor, suggested that the gender-neutral option could directly benefit many students, even beyond the scope of the LGBT community.
“It doesn’t even have to be an LGBT issue,” Sachs said. “[Gender-neutral housing] is just for anyone who’s more comfortable living with someone of the opposite gender, and that’s not allowed unless you go through non-USC housing.”
Additionally, Nguyen-Le noted that the expansion of current USC housing options to include a gender-neutral option would communicate USC’s dedication to diversity and inclusiveness.
“[Offering gender-neutral housing] would just communicate that USC is an open and inclusive space,” Nguyen-Le said. “And I think that breaking down traditional gender binary stereotypes would benefit all people.”