Student Senate passes resolution for gender neutral housing

Johnnie Thomas addresses the Student Senate on the importance of Gender Neutral Housing.

Eric Coulter

Johnnie Thomas addresses the Student Senate on the importance of Gender Neutral Housing.

Molly Waite

Gender-neutral housing has been widely discussed on the college campuses across the country, and the student leaders at Grand Valley State University have stepped forward in support of bringing this option to the GVSU on-campus housing complexes.

At the Student Senate meeting on Thursday, student senator Zach Conley presented a resolution to encourage adopting a preliminary gender-neutral housing program. The resolution was unanimously passed the day of its presentation in a surprise move by the Senate.

Student senator Kirsten Zeiter, who sponsored the resolution with Conley and senators Kyle Lower and Jessica Young, said a resolution is required to be on the agenda for discussion one week before it can be voted on, as prescribed by the Senate bylaws. Zeiter said the Senate had several reasons for voting to suspend the bylaws and vote on the resolution early. With the semester coming to a close, the senators wanted to see the resolution passes quickly and to respond to what Zeiter described as an overwhelming show of student, faculty and staff support.

Before the resolution was presented, two students spoke in support of gender-neutral housing. Johnnie Thompson, president of Transpectrum, the student organization for transgender students and allies, spoke to remind the Senate of the need for gender-neutral housing and to give presence to the 805 students, faculty, and staff who signed a petition to bring this housing option to GVSU.

Thompson listed some of the more 50 campuses in the U.S. that have some form of gender-blind housing, a list that recently grew to include Rutgers University in New Jersey, where a student committed suicide in September after being harassed by his roommate for being gay.

The student, freshman Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

“Tyler was driven to kill himself after his homophobic roommate humiliated him by live streaming his sexual encounters over the Internet,” Thompson said. “Since then, Rutgers has taken action. They have implemented gender-neutral housing on their campus to combat homophobia and discrimination to cultivate a safer, more inclusive campus.”

Turnout at the meeting included Colette Seguin Beighley, director of the LGBT Resource Center, and members of the student-run Gender Neutral Housing Coalition. The coalition was responsible for creating the petition for gender-neutral housing.

Zeiter said that gender-neutral housing is critical for inclusiveness at GVSU.

“It ensures that students from all gender expressions and sexualities are recognized, safe and comfortable in their housing experiences on campus,” Zeiter said. “It is problematic to continue a housing policy based around heterosexual identities and biological sex alone. The current policy doesn’t accommodate or embrace lesbian, gay, bi, transgender or queer students who may not feel as comfortable in a single-gender housing situation. Gender-neutral housing will address these issues while recognizing students’ ability to make mature choices about their living arrangements.”

Zeiter said the next step will be to take the resolution to the attention of Housing particularly to demonstrate the initiative has received significant student support.

“Two students spoke during public comment to articulate their support, and numerous others attended the meeting to show their support,” Zeiter said. “It’s not very often that we see this type of demonstration at our meeting, and we wanted to recognize that by addressing the matter and moving into a vote at this week’s meeting. The motion to suspend the bylaws was met with little to no opposition by other Senators, which indicated that there was a large agreement about the importance of this initiative.”

Andy Beachnau, director of Housing, was unavailable for comment.

By passing the Gender Neutral Housing Resolution, the Student Senate responded directly to Thompson and the students for whom Thompson spoke.

“Senators, join us in taking action and work alongside us to shape this campus and this community into a safe place for all students, where every individual is given the validation, respect, and self-determination to choose something as simple as who they live with,” Thompson said.

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