As the University of Maryland prepares to implement a gender-neutral housing program for the upcoming fall semester, the University is unable to consider the implementation of such a program because of state law constraints, University Director of Accommodations John Evans said.
Gender-neutral housing is defined as "an inclusive dormitory policy providing the option for two students to room together, in mutual agreement, without restriction based on sex or gender" by the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition's Web site.
The University of Maryland will launch a pilot program, Apartment Living for Students of Different Genders, in the fall, said Kathleen Blankenship, University of Maryland coordinator of administrative operations for public/private partnerships.
The program is open to any student in good standing at the university, Blankenship said.
"We did not want gender to be an obstacle for students to live with the people they choose," Blankenship said.
In this program, 40 students will live in apartments with four single bedrooms and two full bathrooms. The full bathrooms allow residents to designate separate bathrooms for men and women if desired, Blankenship said.
Maryland's program has been popular so far, with 102 student applications, Blankenship said, adding that she is only aware of one negative reaction to the program from a community member.
Such gender-neutral housing programs are a fairly recent development for colleges and universities throughout the country, said Sasha Madway, an intern with GenderPac, a national human rights organization.
"Every year we have found more schools are implementing gender-neutral policies," Madway said.
This movement toward gender-neutral housing, however, is not welcomed by all. Jason Mattera, spokesperson for Young America's Foundation, a conservative movement outreach group, said universities should seek to make students comfortable, but noted that coed living situations could cause a large distraction for students. Mattera said, though, the foundation believes schools should make transgender students comfortable, adding that schools should make a similar effort to make conservative students comfortable.
Gender-neutral housing arrangements also can be restricted by law, as is the case in the commonwealth; such housing arrangements are not permitted by an anti-habitation clause in Virginia code, according to Evans.
Virginia code 18.2-345, which relates to sexual relations between men and women, states that unmarried persons cannot "lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together," said Jeffrey Chang, cofounder and associate director for National Student Genderblind Campaign.
As gender-neutral housing is not available on Grounds, the University deals with housing accommodations for transgender students on a case-by-case basis, said Joy Pugh, program coordinator for the University's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. Pugh added that gender-neutral housing recently became a topic of discussion at the University because of the enrollment of an openly transgender student.