Act now to prevent UNC System ban on gender-inclusive housing

Guest Commentary

On Friday, Aug. 9, the University of North Carolina (UNC) system Board of Governors will meet in Chapel Hill to decide the fate of gender-inclusive housing (also commonly referred to as gender non-specific or gender-neutral housing) in the statewide public university system. The meeting follows a long campaign by UNC-Chapel Hill students and faculty that began in August 2011; after Chancellor Holden Thorp initially rejected gender-inclusive housing in February 2012, students continued lobbying and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees unanimously approved the initiative in November 2012. In response, North Carolina state legislators filed a bill in April 2013 to prohibit gender-inclusive housing with the exception of students who are married or siblings. The bill died in committee, but has since resurfaced as a proposed policy to ban gender-inclusive housing across the system by the UNC Board of Governors at their upcoming Aug. 9 meeting.

Campus Pride, a Charlotte-based national organization working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students, is calling on all North Carolina college students and alumni to make their voices heard by contacting the UNC Board of Governors and attending their Aug. 8-9 meeting. The meeting will take place at the Spangler Center (also known as the General Administration Building) on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and a large turn out in support of gender-inclusive housing would send a clear message to the Board of Governors and the state at large. Students and alumni are urged to share their stories with the Board of Governors via email, phone calls and signs at the meeting, as well as ensure their friends and family do the same. Despite denied requests to speak during the meeting, student and alumni voices deserve to be heard.

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Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride executive director, has spoken out in favor of gender-inclusive housing as a way to address campus climate and student safety issues. He says, “Banning gender-inclusive housing on the seventeen UNC system campuses does not serve the safety of any student. It is dangerous and reckless to take such a broad sweeping action. Research shows that LGBT students experience heightened rates of harassment and discrimination at our colleges and universities, including in campus housing. Students should not have to feel unsafe or be fearful where they eat, sleep, and live on campus.”

According to Campus Pride’s “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People,” less than seven percent of institutions of higher education have inclusive non-discrimination polices with regard to gender identity and expression of transgender students, faculty and staff. More than a third of all transgender students, faculty and staff experience harassment (39 percent) and fear for their physical safety (43 percent) and over half attempt to hide their transgender identity to avoid intimidation and harassment on campus (63 percent). Additionally, one-third of LGBT students, faculty and staff have seriously considered leaving their campus due to the challenging climate.

Barring a statewide ban, UNC-Chapel Hill is poised to become the first public university in the state to institute a gender-inclusive housing program this fall, following in the footsteps of approximately 100 schools nationwide, including nearly half of Chapel Hill’s peer institutions. UNC-Charlotte students are also working with administrators to create a plan for gender-inclusive housing on their campus. Instead of supporting these student-led efforts to improve campus climate and student safety, the UNC Board of Governors is threatening to highlight the shortcomings of UNC system universities as they knowingly put transgender and gender non-conforming students in campus housing at risk.

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Campus Pride demands more from the UNC Board of Governors leaders in creating safe campus learning environments. Enough with the excuses from North Carolina state legislators and the UNC Board of Governors. The right thing to do has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the safety of students on campus.

Learn how you can speak out on this issue at campuspride.org. : :

— Jess McDonald recently served as the Media, Communications & Programs Manager of Campus Pride and graduated from Elon University in 2012. Campus Pride, based in Charlotte, is the leading non-profit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students.

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