In the wake of the high-profile suicide of a gay Rutgers University student last fall, the New Jersey college will implement gender-neutral housing in an attempt to make the university more inclusive.
Twenty to 30 students will participate in a pilot program during the 2011-12 school year, which will allow students to choose their roommates regardless of gender. Three dormitories in New Brunswick, New Jersey, will be part of the pilot program, a Rutgers spokesman said.
Students must apply to live in the gender-neutral rooms, which will be reserved for sophomores, juniors and seniors.
“This has been under discussion for a long time,” university officials said in a statement. “In the aftermath of the Clementi tragedy, members of the university’s LGBTQ community told the administration that gender-neutral housing would help create an even more inclusive environment. Since then, the university has been exploring this in greater detail.”
Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped from the George Washington Bridge in September after two other Rutgers students allegedly videotaped a sexual encounter between him and another man and posted the video online.
“Maybe the outcome would have been different if he had been able to choose his own roommate,” said Yousef Saleh, 22, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly. “At least now there’s an option.”
Rutgers junior Ryan Harrington, 21, said the student body has been pushing for gender-neutral housing for years and most students are happy with the university’s decision.
“It gives people more options and it makes people feel safe in their own living environment,” he said, adding that the issue is especially important for transgender students.
Rutgers’ pilot program is a part of a national trend for colleges, said Jeffrey Chang, the co-founder of the National Student Genderblind Campaign, a nonprofit organization that works with college students to develop LGBT policies. Chang estimates that there are 55 universities across the United States that have implemented gender-neutral rooming initiatives.
“I think there definitely has been a really accelerated growth,” said Chang, who is also a law student at Rutgers. “Just within the past year, we’ve seen 10 schools with gender-neutral housing.”
Several schools, including Ohio University, Emory University and Columbia University will begin allowing co-ed rooming in the fall as well.
George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is another addition to the list of schools that permit gender-neutral housing. Senior Michael Komo, 22, helped lead the campaign at his school, which will allow students to choose their roommates in all but three all-girls residence halls during the 2011-12 school year.
“These issues have always been there, but they’re finally getting the attention they need and deserve,” said Komo, who is president of Allied in Pride, a LGBT student organization on campus.