UB introduces gender-neutral housing
“The role of the university is not to determine with whom students may or may not live, but rather to empower its students to make their own decisions responsibly.”
For the first time, student couples of the opposite sex at UB will be able to live together in on-campus housing. UB Campus Living will introduce gender-neutral housing into student campus residence halls and apartments in the fall.
The new program will set aside two floors in a residence hall in the Ellicott Complex as gender neutral, in addition to several apartments in Hadley and Creekside villages. The designated housing will be available to all UB students, including incoming freshmen.
Unlike traditional housing that separates students by sex, gender-neutral housing will allow male and female students to live within the same residence hall room or campus apartment. UB is the only university in Western New York to implement this housing option, though many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. have offered gender-neutral housing for several years.
“The role of the university is not to determine with whom students may or may not live, but rather to empower its students to make their own decisions responsibly,” says Andrea Costantino, director of campus living at UB. “In today’s society, there is no reason why someone should not be living with whom he or she feels most comfortable.”
The housing is anticipated to attract a broad range of students, from those who identify with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT), to those who wish to live with their friends of the opposite sex.
Brian Haggerty, senior associate director of campus living, anticipates that the only difficulty the program will run into is dealing with minor conflicts between roommates who are romantically involved.
“I do think the traditional housing that we offer meets the needs of the majority of our students,” says Haggerty. “But if we only cater to the majority, then the rest of our students are missing what they need to be successful.”
While this is only the pilot year, the program is off to a successful start: The designated campus apartments already have filled and the residence halls are approaching capacity, Haggerty notes.
Trey Ufholcz, a student in the School of Social Work, has been instrumental in developing the program.
Ufholcz, a social work graduate student and MSW intern who is completing his field placement at the UB Gender Institute under the direction of associate director Patricia Shelly, was working on a thesis about homelessness and the lack of safe housing for LGBT youth in Erie County when he realized students at UB were experiencing similar issues.
“I became interested while working at the Heart Foundation (a human service agency dedicated to promoting, supporting and strengthening the quality of life for young people, families and communities). We encountered a lot of LGBT youth who were homeless, but they weren’t recognized as being homeless because they were couch surfing at friends and neighbors homes,” says Ufholcz. “But I felt I needed to start here at UB and make the campus a welcoming place for LGBT students before going into the community.”
Ufholcz, a transgender student, teamed up with Haggerty and James Bowman, special populations outreach coordinator in Student Health and Wellness, to develop a proposal covering research on the importance of gender-neutral housing on college campuses and ideal practices to use in the program.
Realizing that the voices of other UB students should be included in the proposal, Ufholcz created the Student Advocacy Group to gather student opinions about what needed to be changed in student housing.
However, he soon recognized that a significant portion of the group’s issues pertained to transgender students. In response, he created a branch under the Student Advocacy Group, called UB TransAction, to provide them with a voice as well.
The proposal laid the groundwork for an executive summary Haggerty presented to Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services, who approved the option.
The implementation of gender-neutral housing has been planned for almost two years, and if all goes well, it will be expanded next year to include more housing units at the university, Haggerty says.