In a shift in its housing policy, Residential Life will now permit students to live in a mixed-gender double by request.
The change, revealed as the freshman class was arriving on campus in August, is a broad expansion of the former Residential Life policy that gave transgender students the opportunity to receive alternate housing based on their gender identity.
Now, any student regardless of gender identity can live in a mixed double.
“It really was a change that reflects the current student body and the needs of the current student body,” Dean of the College Jeffrey Runner said. “Same-sex living arrangements aren’t necessarily the right thing for everyone. We want to be an inclusive campus. This is one relatively straightforward way of being a little bit more inclusive.”
‘An option for all students’
Work to change the policy began last semester, after a student asked about the possibility of living in a mixed double during this academic year.
The student, sophomore Tayfun Sahin, approached Residential Life around the time of the spring housing lottery to request to be placed in a mixed double.
“I was, pretty much like any other student, thinking about rooming for the upcoming year,” Sahin said. “I was frustrated because I have some female friends who I wanted to room with [but] as a male who still identified as male, I couldn’t room with someone who identified as female.”
Sahin explained that at the time he was frustrated that UR’s policy only applied to transgender and non-binary students. He not only wanted to have the opportunity to live in a mixed double but also to give the same opportunity to all students.
“I wanted this to be an option for all students,” Sahin said.
The policy change was lauded by the Pride Network, which emphasized the benefits to members of the campus LGBT community.
“This is a solid step forward for the queer community on campus, and in particular for queer students’ right to feel safe and comfortable in their housing situations,” the Pride Network said in a statement. “We are grateful that all upperclass students, especially those who identify as genderqueer and transgender, are able to live with whomever they feel most comfortable.”
From Idea to Policy
The new policy, crafted from the end of spring semester into the summer, was spurred in part by Sahin’s efforts.
Sahin submitted a report he wrote detailing gender-inclusive housing policies at other schools to Director of Housing Operations Karen Ely. Executive Director of Residential Life and Housing Services Laurel Contomanolis indicated in an email that while Sahin’s report did not make it beyond Ely, suggestions from Sahin’s discussions with Ely were taken into account when the new policy was being drafted.
Discussions involving former Dean of the College Richard Feldman, and later Runner, led to UR taking a look at other colleges in the region. Residential Life’s research led to the finding that several other institutions, including RIT and Cornell University, had gender-inclusive housing options.
Runner estimates that the decision to amend the policy, made by University President Joel Seligman, was made mid-August. UR announced the change on Aug. 23.
Using the Policy
Students hoping to take advantage of the new policy cannot simply register for the same room as a friend of the opposite gender during the annual housing lottery; Residential Life must manually permit the arrangement, Ely said.
For the arrangement to be made, a pair of students must approach Ely with their intention to live in a mixed double. Students will have their application for a mixed double approved following a discussion with Ely.
Freshmen also can request to live in a mixed double, though the new policy is specific to upperclass students. In any case, roommate selection for mixed doubles is not done randomly, meaning that freshmen must specifically request the arrangement when applying for University housing.
“This policy provides it for freshmen and provides it for upperclass [students] in the same way,” Ely said of the mixed double arrangement. “Whether you’re a freshmen or an upperclass student, it still comes to me for a conversation about what the options are and ‘how do we make this work.’”
If one of the two students decides to leave the room, the process is more complicated.
“If, for some reason, [the female roommate] didn’t want to stay in the room any more, Housing would assign a male roommate,” Ely said. “That’s the same with any room change.”
In the event of a vacancy opening up, the remaining occupant can still request to live in a mixed double if they identify a friend who would fill the vacancy. In this case, the two students would have to meet with Ely to get the arrangement approved.
From Now to the Future
Currently, only one pair of students, which includes Sahin, is taking advantage of the new housing policy, according to Ely.
Sahin is hoping the new policy will become more accessible to freshmen in the future. He hopes to work with Residential Life in the coming years to make it easier for students to live in a mixed double.
“I do want to continue the fight for making this possible to all students,” Sahin said in an interview. “I just want to make sure that it’s available for first-years. Hopefully, by the time I leave the university, I can make sure that that happens. That’s something I truly want to finish.”
UR Graduate Housing has had a similar policy in place for many years, since its housing is rented by students, who have the freedom to choose their apartment’s occupants. Eastman School of Music did not confirm its housing policy, though its housing site does not indicate a similar policy in its dorms.