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UNCC considering gender-neutral housing

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

When he realized he was going to have to live with a group of girls in his dormitory, UNC Charlotte student Anthony Dondero worried about his safety.

Dondero is transgender. Although he had been living as a male for more than a year – and had even grown a full beard – he was biologically and legally a female still, and could only live with females under UNCC’s housing regulations.

“I was concerned for my own safety and comfort, both internally and externally,” Dondero said.

Dondero said that instead of living in the dorms, he chose to live at his mom’s house nearby.

This week, university administrators and students will begin discussing whether the campus is ready for gender-neutral housing, which would allow students the option of living with same-sex or opposite-sex roommates.

Currently, the university has co-ed residence halls, but does not mix genders within suites.

In mid-November, UNC Chapel Hill became the first public university in the state to allow gender-neutral housing when the school’s board of trustees unanimously endorsed the new housing option.

Under the plan, UNC Chapel Hill students will have to apply to be part of the program, and university administrators say it will affect only a small percentage of suites and campus apartments.

A number of private colleges, including Duke University and Warren-Wilson College, already allow opposite-sex roommates in the dorms.

“The fact that they got it made me work a lot harder,” Dondero said. “We know that the first school who gets it is going to have a domino effect.”

Both UNCC and UNC Chapel Hill have been working for more than a year to bring gender-neutral housing to campus. Both have also sought aid from the Charlotte-based LGBT advocacy group Campus Pride.

On Thursday, UNCC may come one step closer to having gender-neutral housing when its student government association meets to discuss – and possibly vote on – legislation asking administrators to add the housing option.

“This is all about campus safety,” Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride, said. “That should be the number-one concern of every campus – to make sure every student has the ability to go to classes, get good grades and then go home to their residence hall and feel safe and secure and welcome.”

If student government approves the legislation, it will then go before Housing and Residence Life. Ultimately, university officials will also need to approve the legislation to begin the program.

Chauncey Gilliam, a freshman at-large senator who sponsored the bill, said he hopes the university will have gender neutral housing by fall 2013 but a more realistic bet is fall 2015, he said.

“Everyone deserves the same respect and opportunities,” he said. “I want to make sure UNC Charlotte is really living up to our policy of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness.”

Concurrent to student government’s conversations, UNC Charlotte Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Art Jackson confirmed that administrators will begin formally discussing gender-neutral housing at the university in early December.

“We’re at the very beginning of the process,” Jackson said in a statement. “It’s been discussed informally but there hasn’t been a formal discussion until now.”

Jackson added that administrators will discuss how gender-neutral housing would fit into the UNC Charlotte campus.

“We will examine the situation and see how it would work on our campus,” Jackson said.

Many LGBT advocates on campus said they believe that UNCC is ready for the change.

Sophomore Asia-Marie Terrell, who is co-president of the university’s PRIDE organization, said she thinks it’s an important step toward decreasing LGBT-centered bullying on campus.

“This will raise awareness about what’s going on,” Terrell said. “At least (trans-gender individuals) will have somewhere to go where they know they can lay their head at night and know that when they wake up there won’t be someone outside their door wanting to hurt them.”

Added Dondero: “UNC Charlotte has made a lot more strides to become more trans-friendly on campus. We’re really lucky to have a lot of allies on campus.”

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter @earriero
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