|Starting in the fall, UMD's apartment buildings will be gender inclusive|
Student Association President Jacob Froelich and his friends hoped to live together their sophomore year, but plans were derailed because of their gender. Jacob's best friends are women so being roommates wasn't an option. Accepting the barriers, they lived in separate quarters, but when an invitation to change the lay of the land arrived he RSVPed with enthusiasm.
Late this summer, when most students were savoring their final days of freedom, Jacob was on campus working with GLBT Services Director Angie Nichols and Jeremy Leiferman, director of Housing and Residence Life, to figure out how to turn "the way it's always been done" into "among the first." Their mission: introduce gender inclusive housing to UMD. Their motivation: "Providing comfortable, and inclusive living possibilities where students are no longer forced into housing suitable for only males or females," explains Angie.
While drafting a plan to transform UMD’s five on-campus apartment areas into gender inclusive housing, they sought input from members of the Queer & Allied Student Union and the UMD GLBT Commission, who stressed the importance of removing the gender barrier for transgender students. "The biggest thing to come out of these groups is that UMD needed to provide a space for students to have privacy. It's such a basic human right that's been overlooked," says Jacob.
Jacob, Angie, and Jeremy took what they learned to UMD's leadership team who approved their plan for gender inclusive housing, placing UMD among the first public universities in the state to offer this. "This idea came from students, so it's very exciting to see this new option offered next fall," says Vice Chancellor of Student Life Lisa Erwin. "Our goal is for all students who live on campus to have a positive experience."
While the planners of gender inclusive housing originally set out to create housing options to support GLBT students, they quickly realized they were creating a housing option that all students could benefit from.
|Director of Housing and Residence Life Jeremy Leiferman and Student Association President Jacob Froelich in a UMD apartment. The shoe collection is indicative of the living options available starting this fall.|
Students will be able to select apartments in which their roommates can be any combination of genders. This supports ‘goal two’ of UMD’s strategic plan: creating an inclusive campus climate. “We’re creating just that for many students who may have felt that they didn’t have a safe place to live in our community,” says Jeremy.
Students who are interested in this option would have to select the gender inclusive housing and wouldn’t randomly be assigned to it. Jeremy stresses that this doesn't take away existing housing, calling it another choice.
The apartments will be the first buildings on campus to become gender inclusive, but Jeremy, Jacob, and Angie have recommended that floors on Lake Superior Hall echo this model in the future, allowing students of all genders to select to live on each floor.
The idea was just approved this week, but along the way the planning committee received backing from the University system, the Campus Climate Change Team, and the Chancellor's office. The biggest pat on the back, however, came from the students.
Jacob believes the feedback they received is indicative of this being the right time and the right place, “I’m really appreciative of all the support that we’ve gotten on campus and from the Student Association, the voice of the students. They voted strongly in favor of approving the policy. This is the kind of university that I can be proud of.”
Lori C. Melton, March 2015
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