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'Gender-inclusive' housing coming to Roosevelt University

(Chicago Tribune file photo )
March 18, 2013|By Erin Vogel @eringejuice | For RedEye

Starting this fall, gender-inclusive housing will be available to students at Roosevelt University, thanks to more than two years of hard work from the school's students and faculty.

The new housing program, which will be open to students who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, genderqueer or as allies, is the result of efforts from a 19-member Gender Inclusive Housing Task Force comprised of Roosevelt students and faculty. The university's Office of Residence Life created the task force in the fall of 2012 in response to a Student Government Association resolution asking the university to consider adding gender-neutral housing.

Other universities across the country, including University of Chicago, already boast gender-neutral housing in their dorms. UChicago launched its program, available to second-, third- and fourth-year students, in January 2009.

Roosevelt task force members, however, thought the phrase "gender neutral" didn't go far enough in classifying what they wanted to see in their program, so they made the unanimous decision to use the phrase "gender-inclusive" instead.

"The task force felt that ‘gender neutral' took something away from people that makes them want to participate in these communities," said Bridget Collier, assistant vice president of Residence Life at Roosevelt. " ‘Neutral' could exclude somebody who does have a specific gender that they identify with. We felt the term ‘inclusive' describes more of the intent and captures more of the spirit of what this program is."

A task force survey of the Roosevelt community found that 83 percent of respondents indicated they would support a gender-inclusive housing option. The remainder of students and faculty members who aren't on board with the idea are probably still unsure of what exactly the housing program will entail, said Brenden Paradies, a 21-year-old junior and student member of the task force who has been involved in the housing campaign since its early stages. Paradies also led the push to bring gender-neutral bathrooms to the university.

"I think why some students might not be gung-ho about it right now is just because they don't know about it yet, so they're scared of what it means for them and what it might mean for their experience here at Roosevelt in general," said Paradies, an integrated marketing communication major and women's and gender studies minor. "So it's not necessarily that they disagree or aren't accepting of the idea--they just need a little bit more knowledge to support it in the best way they feel comfortable doing."

According to Collier, the new housing option will be part of a larger Gender and Diversity Inclusive Community in the Wabash Building, accepting students not only from all gender identities but individuals from different races, cultures and ethnicities as well.

"This is a great chance for students to be exposed to different ways of life so they can see that there are people in the world who are very different from them and figure out how to learn from that," Collier said. "It's going to be symbolic for Roosevelt to really live our social justice mission here and support our student body."

Paradies added the housing program reminds him of something his advisers told him when he started at Roosevelt as a freshman: that he was likely to learn even more outside of the classroom than he would from the textbooks and lectures in his classes.

"Just by interacting with students of different cultures, different races, ideas, theologies--I learn more that way than I would be able to absorb from a feminist scholar or author in class," Paradies said. "This [housing option] is just going to be another way to apply learning and have a hands-on experience for students who learn a little bit better that way."

Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.

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