Gender neutral housing on campus may still be a distant prospect for UT.
Written in 2012 by SGA senator Jacob Clark, the Student Government Association Bill 0113 aims to allow male and female students to live together in the same apartment or suite. Gender-neutral housing would benefit siblings, couples, transgender individuals and others who wish to live with members of the opposite sex.
Passed by the student senate in 2012 by a margin of 27-18, Bill 0113 called for the establishment of gender-neutral housing options by fall 2014.
Frank Cuevas, executive director of University Housing, has been working closely with Provost Susan Martin and Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall to determine how best to move forward with the bill.
What they have concluded may postpone the fall 2014 deadline.
"Recently, we had the chance to sit down and review the bill," Cuevas said. "In that discussion, we arrived at the conclusion that unfortunately the facilities we currently have don't really lend themselves to implement gender neutral housing."
Cuevas said these housing options would fit best in newly-built dorms carefully designed to fit requirements like increased privacy.
"As we look at designing and building new facilities and becoming more intentional with the design process, we will have a much more conducive space to work with," Cuevas said.
Clark, a senior in College Scholars, remains hopeful that progress will be made.
"If a bill sticks around that long, and they're still talking about it and it's being dealt with that high up, usually you get a result," Clark said. "It's very rare that nothing happens."
Products of student initiative, senate bills tend to be most successful when their progress is closely monitored by senators.
"The gender neutral housing bill was my first bill, and it's being taken very seriously because we took it very seriously," Clark said. "We had a serious discussion in senate and we did our research beforehand. Technically, once we pass bills in the senate, it is out of our hands. But it's our responsibility as senators to check up on it and keep administrators accountable, which I think they appreciate."
Recently, University Housing began a pilot program allowing honors students and athletes to live on a co-ed floor in Volunteer Hall.
Rachel Hudson, an RA on the seventh floor of Volunteer Hall, said there have been no safety issues thus far with males and females living on the same floor.
"I think it's beneficial to have them on the same floor, especially in the living and learning communities," Hudson said. "I see boys and girls on this floor studying together all the time. It's just easier to be accessible."
Noting other universities that have successfully implemented gender neutral housing, Cuevas is working with other administrators to work out the logistics of the plan. Gender neutral housing initiatives have spread across the country in recent years, with nearly 100 schools in the U.S. currently offering gender-neutral living options.
Northeastern University, for example, allows students interested in gender-neutral housing to specify single or double bedrooms in pre-determined apartments across campus.
"In places like Vol Hall, you have men and women living on the same floor, which is technically more co-ed than gender neutral, but I think with that we are getting to the right concept," Clark said. "You don't need a new hall, you don't need a new branch, you don't need to make a huge change, you just need to let people who want to live together live in the same place."
However, Cuevas stressed the importance of correctly implementing Bill 0113, with intention and a carefully designed floor plan in mind.
"Some people might say that since the new Fred Brown dorm will be opening next fall that it will be used for gender neutral housing," Cuevas said. "But not even Fred Brown is designed in a way that is conducive to that type of living.
"You have to have answers to all the issues up front and be very intentional, otherwise you run the risk of the program not being successful at all."