RALEIGH, N.C.—The University of North Carolina Board of Governors unanimously banned so-called “gender-neutral housing” options for the state’s 16 public universities today. The vote halts plans for mixed-gender housing at UNC-Chapel Hill one week before students were set to start moving in.
Although not allowed to be roommates, members of the opposite sex at UNC-Chapel Hill would have been allowed to live in the same shared-bathroom suite, or in the same apartment. Today’s Board decision prohibits members of the opposite sex from living in the same room, apartment, or suite, unless they are siblings or legally married.
Gender-neutral housing is marketed as a solution to bullying members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. About 100 public and private colleges nationwide have gender-neutral policies. Three of the private schools, including nearby Duke University, are in North Carolina. The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted in November to become the fourth school in the state with the policy.
Former UNC-Chapel HIll Chancellor Holden Thorp called the housing option “vital to protecting the safety” of students. Thorp left for Washington University under fire for academic and athletic misconduct during his tenure. Carol Folt became chancellor July 1. Her former employer, Dartmouth College, also has a gender-neutral housing option, where students can “learn about and explore gender identity and expression in a supportive environment.”
Gender-neutral housing isn’t just for LGBT students, though. It also promotes cohabitation among unmarried couples. The UNC movement marketed the housing policy as “an issue of personal preference and safety” for all.
The last reported UNC campus hate crime based on sexual orientation occurred eight years ago. But the school has seen a recent spike in sexual assault reports in its residence halls. Victims reported 14 sexual assaults in dorms in 2010, and 9 in 2011. Before the recent spike, assaults in dorms reached that level just twice since 1998. The UNC-Chapel Hill gender-neutral dorm movement’s Tumblr page brushed off concerns about sexual assault, referring people to the school’s “existing protocol” for dealing with such situations.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said today she’s glad the UNC System can “get back to the business of educating our students and preparing them to be productive members of our society, instead of promoting cohabitation among students of the opposite sex.”
LGBT supporters at the board meeting, held in Chapel Hill, told student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel they think the timing was deliberate—before students could voice their opinions, and showing “no support” for the transgendered. Board members said the state’s schools have better ways to handle discrimination.
The board’s decision is almost identical to a now dead bill in the state Senate. Board member David Powers said the General Assembly had more important things to cover.