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UI officials look to implement gender-neutral housing

BY KRISTEN EAST | SEPTEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Unisex and co-ed housing has become an increasing national trend among universities. But the University of Iowa hasn't hopped on the bandwagon yet.

UI officials said they are looking into more gender-neutral options for students, but no plans or dates are set. Such options could include unisex housing and bathrooms, and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-friendly floor.

"At this point in time, we're looking to see what everyone else is doing," said Von Stange, the director of UI Housing and Dining. "We have an eye toward gender-neutral [floors], but we haven't made any plans to do that."

Stange said as more renovations are made to existing dorms, more dorms will have men and women living on the same floor.

Although the UI doesn't have any plans in place for unisex housing, the school has a long history of acceptance. The UI's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allied Union was founded in 1970, and it is one of most recognized groups on campus.

Some private universities, including George Washington University and Georgetown University, have implemented unisex housing. However, some religion-affiliated universities are trying to put a ban on co-ed dorms.

John Banzhaf, a professor of law at George Washington University, said he's been fighting sex discrimination for more than 20 years. Banzhaf is suing Catholic University for its new ban on co-ed dorms.

Banzhaf said students at Catholic were once given a choice regarding their living situation. Now, the freedom to exercise that right is gone. He said the ban violates the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act.

"If we turn just to the situation [at Catholic], I savor choice over coercion," Banzhaf said. "What Catholic has done is a 'one size fits all.' You must fit into a dormitory based solely on your gender."

George Washington allows students of any gender or race to room together, Banzhaf said. He said there is no restriction on men and women sharing the same room, adding the university also has unisex bathrooms on campus.

"George Washington now has total unisex housing," Banzhaf said. "Anyone can basically do anything they want. If two gay men want to room together, that's fine. If two transgender people want to room together, that's fine too."

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently questioned the controversy over Catholic's ban.

"Our educational establishment these days, while so tolerant of and even insistent upon diversity in all other aspects of life seems bent on eliminating diversity of moral judgment — particularly moral judgment based on religious views," Scalia said according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Stange had no comment on how the UI would respond if the case for banning co-ed dorms were to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Banzhaf said unisex housing has become an increasing trend, and he thinks more universities will start to consider more living options for students.

"I certainly think in this day and age, it's hard to argue that you can't have men and women in the same dormitories," Banzhaf said.


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