Gender Open Housing, which has the capacity to house 144 students for the 2013-2014 academic year, the most yet, goes live May 2. Those spots will be divided between Foster-Walker Complex and 1835 Hinman.
"I personally am hoping that this program succeeds and grows and becomes very strong," said Mark D'Arienzo, associate director of University Housing Administration. "At the moment, it has the potential to be."
In 2010, the pilot year, just 17 students signed up for GOH in Hinman in what D'Arienzo called a "rocky start" for GOH. Since then, the initiative has slowly grown, moving into Plex and Kemper Residence Hall.
After a task force made up of students, faculty and administrators proposed changes to the current GOH plans, the University is expanding the 3-year-old initiative. In addition to having more rooms available for students, the University will provide multi-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms for the first time. Next year will also be the first year GOH applicants can choose doubles, meaning they can share rooms with friends of any gender.
Medill senior Zach Wichter, former Rainbow Alliance president and a member of the task force, sees GOH as a necessary project for LGBTQ inclusion on campus.
"There are a lot of students who really do need this option," he said. "I know some trans-identified individuals who can’t find suitable housing because their gender expression doesn’t match their paperwork, so they’re not comfortable having a roommate."
Having a safe space for minority students is definitely a major part of why GOH is an important initiative to students and administrators, but they also make a point to emphasize that heterosexual, cisgender students – or those who identify with the gender they were assigned to at birth – are also welcome to take advantage of the housing option.
Tiffany Gonzales, an area coordinator whose jurisdiction includes Plex, said students don't always understand the benefits of GOH. She said it's a good way for male and female friends of any gender identity and sexuality to live together without needing to moving off-campus.
Paul Riel, executive director of Residential Services, was tasked with approving and rejecting different aspects of the task force's proposal for the 2013-2014 academic year. He and Julie Payne-Kirchmeier approved fewer units of GOH than several committee members lobbied for, Wichter said, but felt that overall the collaboration this year was smoother than in years past.
"Where could we deploy this? How could we expand it?" Riel said, reflecting on his thought process for how much GOH space to allot. "We tried to be a little more realistic in terms of projections. We'll let the market drive that."
D'Arienzo explained that he wants to see the program expand further in the coming years, but isn't willing to risk allocating too many GOH spaces. If that were to happen, D'Arienzo wouldn't want to place students in GOH who hadn't requested it. That's why this year those involved with GOH are focusing on marketing so that interest continues to build by year.
GOH has room to grow not just in terms of how many rooms are available, but also in terms of the potential applicant pool. As of now, incoming freshmen will not be able to select GOH on their forms in June. They can still seek it out as an option, but only by going through D'Arienzo's office. All students who live there must be 18 or older.
Wichter knows that there's still progress to be made, but said that the continued existence of GOH sends the right message to new students.
"Come as you are, we’re going to find an option that’s suitable to you for housing," he said. "Having this program sends a particularly targeted message to all LGBTQ individuals."