Breaking the gender binary: Junior leads charge to offer gender-neutral housing

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As Elon University expands the physical living space on campus, Laura Sturm is looking toward on-campus options, particularly those offering gender-neutral housing.

The junior and vice president of SPECTRUM, Elon’s gay-straight alliance, first became involved with the issue as a result of a story that ran in The Pendulum last spring, which included a quote from an administrator inviting a student to take on the initiative. Though she has since lost touch with the staff member and has been working individually for some time, she plans to present a formal proposal to Residence Life and Elon administration this semester.

“It’s not necessarily housing that I want to live in, but it’s really important to some students,” she said. “I think having that sense of security is really important.”

Sturm sent out a survey earlier this month to a little more than 3,000 current students at Elon, the majority of whom live on campus. She has collected about 800 responses and said she plans to wait another week before she begins to analyze her results. Certain trends are evident in student responses to the survey, which includes two open-ended questions with room for student remarks.

Many students have written they think gender-neutral housing is a good option for engaged or married couples wishing to live together on campus. Others have noted they think the option should not be a part of the university’s policy because it would create unnecessary drama between couples who prematurely decide to live together and then break up during the year.

“That’s sort of a heteronormative thought in my personal opinion because there’s the option for homosexual couples to live together and no one says they can’t do it,” Sturm said. “It’s holding a double standard.”

“It’s a matter of making students feel like they’re not trapped in gender binary and they can be accepted for whatever and there are people who identify like them and don’t really care who their roommate is.”

The Station at Mill Point, scheduled for completion in August, will offer mixed gender living options for students. The townhouses will include individual rooms and bathrooms for each of the four students and a common living space in the kitchen and main room.

Ideally, Sturm said students who live in on-campus residence halls should also have the option of gender-neutral housing, including having a roommate without consideration given to gender. Students who don’t identify with either gender often find the process of applying for housing difficult, she said.

“They say, ‘biologically I should pick this one, but last year I lived with a female but she wasn’t understanding of the fact that I don’t see myself as a female and that made her uncomfortable and me uncomfortable,’” Sturm said. “It’s a matter of making students feel like they’re not trapped in gender binary and they can be accepted for whatever and there are people who identify like them and don’t really care who their roommate is.”

At a time when diversity is a buzzword on Elon’s campus, Sturm said she is trying to challenge the university to provide an actual definition to diversity and realize it involves more than just race.

“I think focusing on this type of housing is a great way for Elon to expand their view of diversity and make students feel included,” she said. “There are so many awesome people who, because they don’t fit into the labels society creates, they feel so estranged and I just hate the idea that people can’t be liked or fit in somewhere because they can’t be labeled by something everyone is comfortable with.”

And while Sturm realizes not everyone will agree with the idea, she believes it’s a cause worth fighting for.

“Even if we only have one gender-neutral housing situation a year, at least it’s available for those two people,” she said. “It’s going to mean such a big difference in their lives and it’s going to have such a big effect on them.”

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