The gender-neutral housing task force will recommend this week that open housing be expanded to all upperclassmen dorms, Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger told Spectator.
The task force will make its recommendation to Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini, SEAS Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora, Dean of Community Development and Multicultural Affairs Terry Martinez, and Shollenberger this Friday. Shollenberger emphasized that the committee of deans will then decide whether to expand gender-neutral housing.
The task force has spent the last few months reviewing this year’s pilot program, which allows any two upperclassmen to live together—regardless of gender identity—in six residence halls.
Barry Weinberg, CC ’12, who sits on the task force and helped develop the open housing policy, said it’s “pretty likely” that the deans will agree to expand the policy, calling it “something students need and want.” Shollenberger said the policy should be set before this year’s housing lottery.
Avi Edelman, CC ’11, serves on the task force and was one of the authors of the original open housing proposal. He said he was “thrilled” that the policy would likely be opened to all upperclassman dorms, although he wished it hadn’t taken so long.
“I didn’t imagine when we set out to get this together that it would take the three years it’s taken,” Edelman said. “But I’m proud not just of everyone who’s fought for it, but for the University, for recognizing the value of gender-neutral housing and creating that safe and comfortable environment for all students.”
Edelman said he understands that administrators were working on a different timeline than students pushing for open housing and that there was a need for a pilot program. He said the task force will now focus on implementation and outreach for the program, which he believes will be “just as essential” as its original work.
Martinez estimated that about 20 students took part in the pilot program. Shollenberger said that the relatively low number of students who took part isn’t a reason not to expand the program to all upperclassman dorms.
“It wasn’t about numbers,” Shollenberger said. “It was about giving students choices.”
Andrea Folds, CC ’12, who roomed with former Spectator news editor Sam Levin, CC ’12, last semester, said her living arrangement worked out well.
“It didn’t seem any different,” Folds said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, I’m living with a boy.’ It was like living with any of your other friends.”
Martinez said the open housing evaluation process involved talking to resident advisers about the policy’s impact on the community and surveying students who took part in the pilot. She said the survey turned up “no surprises” and noted that while there were roommate conflicts, they were no different than any other roommate conflicts.
Edelman said that he’d still like to see a gender-blind housing option for first years, although he added that this idea was dropped after initial conversations about the policy.
“It’s first-years entering the University for whom it’s the most important to feel safe and comfortable, because that’s when they’re deciding if they feel safe and comfortable at Columbia,” Edelman said. “I do think that something should be done to address that issue.”