By Cody-Leigh Mullin

What if the subject of gender, masculine and feminine alike, was as variable as race and religion when it comes to assigning on-campus housing? This is precisely what the Colleges and University Housing Services staff at UC Santa Cruz is currently discussing.

Integrating men, women and those who do not affiliate with a particular gender on the same dormitory floor is a fairly new development in colleges and universities across the nation. However UCSC is already working toward the goal of giving a gender-neutral option to all students.

Among the colleges and universities in the nation to already offer gender-neutral housing are Brown University, Oberlin College, Columbia University, Vassar College, and University of Pennsylvania.

Three California campuses have similar accommodations, including Humboldt State, the California Institute of Technology, and UC Riverside. UCR, which initiated gender-neutral housing in the fall of 2005, remains the only UC campus to have done so. However, other UCs offer various accommodations for the GLBTI community, such as UC Berkeley’s Unity House and Davis’ Rainbow House.

Nancy Jean Tubbs, director of the GLBT Resource Center for UCR, helped initiate what became the first gender-neutral housing plan for the UC system. In 2004, the Students for the Equality of Queers (SEQ) noticed a need for gender-neutral housing and quickly formed a policy where incoming freshman could apply for it, a feature that had never before been available in public institutions.

“[The process] takes away the hard decisions that need to be made when [someone’s] physical body doesn’t match [his or her] identity,” Tubbs said.

Much to the surprise of those working on the new housing plan, it was not met with opposition.

“I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of a reaction from the community,” Tubbs said. “But we are just UCR, we aren’t Berkeley, we aren’t UCLA, we are not in the public eye, so we were more able to do it.”

According to the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition’s 2007 GENIUS (Gender Equality National Index for Universities and Schools) Index, 147 colleges and universities in the nation have added gender identity and expression to their non-discrimination policies; as can be compared to 2006’s count of 131. However, only 30 out of these 147 schools offer gender-neutral housing.

UCSC now has a Gender-Neutral Housing Task Force that works to create policies and procedures for implementing this new housing accomodation. The group also trains staff on gender and transgender issues and on how to deal with issues in a sensitive and knowledgeable manner.

Matt Hall, a second-year Merrill College resident assistant, was one of many who were trained on the subject of transgender issues and gender neutral options.

“I’m glad the effort is being made,” Hall said. “The feedback I heard from the Merrill resident Aasistant staff, which is very diverse, was extremely positive.”

The idea for gender neutral housing accommodates students who are undergoing gender transitions. Tessa Lauren, who is currently in the beginning of a male-to-female transition, lives in a queer-friendly atmosphere but had never been given a gender-neutral option prior to this. Lauren chose UCSC based upon the current measures taken for the GLBTIQQ community. Future policies that will cater to the transgender and gender queer community reinforce her initial feelings.

“I do appreciate not being labeled by a biological feature I’m not particularly fond of,” Lauren said. “This school makes it a lot easier to express how I really feel.”

Current changes in UCSC’s policies, including the installation of co-ed restrooms, make it easier for Lauren and other transgender students to express themselves fully without fear of being ostracized.

“I just wish I could be accepted as who I am and not seen as a freak,” she said. “I’m always scared to go in the women’s bathroom because some women may feel like the bathroom is a ‘no-penis zone’.”

In addition to co-ed bathrooms in many of the dorms, UCSC has advances in the gender field underway like GLBTIAQQ floors, which are located in Kresge, Porter and Merrill College. These theme floors are designated as a welcome space for those who identify with a different gender or choose not to specify.

Although UCSC is working on breaking through the gender barrier, for Lauren, there is still a great deal to be taken into account when assessing how prevalent gender roles are in today’s society.

“I would prefer that one’s biological sex be taken out of every facet of life,” she said. “One’s everyday life should be gender-neutral.”