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Castleton to expand gender inclusive housing options

By Catherine Twing
On April 18, 2017

A student exits Ellis Hall. The first floor of Ellis offered gender inclusive rooms this year, and starting in the fall, rooms in Babcock, Hoff and Rutland will be added to the list. Photo by Aaron Lethbridge

After a successful trial year of gender-inclusive housing on the first floor of Ellis Hall, Castleton University has announced the expansion of gender inclusive options for the fall of 2017.

Gender inclusive means students can live with whomever they choose, regardless of gender. It will be offered in the Rutland apartments and Babcock Hall, Ellis Hall and Hoff Hall, which are corridor style buildings

The three on-campus buildings are already co-ed by floor with two to four shared bathrooms on each floor. One of these bathrooms will become gender neutral on each floor to accommodate students who may not feel comfortable using a strictly male or female bathroom.

This year, the entire first floor of Ellis Hall was gender inclusive with a gender-neutral bathroom. The new options are by room, so students can live in whichever room they want within those three buildings.

The hope is that it will continue to expand into suite style buildings in coming years.

“What the future holds is suite style, and Castleton (Hall) would be a good option because it has private bathrooms instead of stall bathrooms,” said Director of Residence Life Mike Robilotto.

Area Coordinator Cora Churchill, who oversees Hoff Hall, Haskell Hall and the three houses, said the bathroom situation requires the most planning.

“It comes down to bathrooms a lot,” said Churchill, a University of Vermont alumna. “At UVM, all of our suites had two bathrooms so having a gender neutral bathroom works really well. Having one bathroom is really tough if not everyone in the suite is comfortable with sharing a bathroom.”

Students’ individual preferences also come into play.

“There are some people who are so open-minded and there are some people who absolutely do not want to live based on gender,” Churchill said. “So it’s tough and it’s assessing what our needs are, because at the end of the day, you need the students to want it and need it.”

The idea was originally presented by students in Castleton’s LGBTQ club, Spectrum Pride, and welcomed by administration.

Kyle Gosley, president of Spectrum Pride, wanted to live with his friend Chelsea freshman year, but was unable to based on their genders.

“This is for people who do not feel comfortable being randomly selected with someone of the same gender,” he said. “Anybody who wants to room with anyone.”

Graduate student Mariah O’Hara thinks the expanded options are a positive change.

“I think it’s a great opportunity and it opens up a lot more of campus for students. It’s a lot more inclusive than having it in one building,” she said.

O’Hara thinks it’s also good for students not in the LGBTQ community. She explained how she grew up living with her brothers, so the idea of living with a girl in college was strange to her.

Students can choose to be a part of this housing option, but won’t be automatically assigned to it. Like the housing process for other buildings, as long as both students agree to live together, they can.

“If couples choose to live together they can do that, no questions asked,” Robilotto said. “In the past that probably wouldn’t have worked. Now it is an option, but that isn’t the goal of gender-inclusive housing.”

Most students are supportive of the efforts, but wary of romantic couples living together.

“It’s a good idea and a bad idea,” said Castleton senior Marissa Benson. “Couples don’t last. They can always go back to their room, but not if you don’t have your own room.”

 

Sophomore Kyle McCarthy lived in gender inclusive housing in Ellis Hall this year and plans to live in Hoff Hall with a female friend next year. He likes the option because most of his friends are female and he’d rather live with one of them than a male. 

Although supportive of the option, McCarthy also has concerns about couples living together.

“I know a lot of couples are kind of living together anyways unofficially, but now they won’t have a back-up room,” he said. “If they break up it could be a lot of drama and fighting for the entire floor to hear.”

Director of Student Activities Matt Patry countered these comments by noting that this problem already exists and is handled when students live with close friends and it doesn’t work out.

Besides, in cases of abuse, Gosley also doesn’t see couples living together as an issue.

“Sex is going to happen,” Gosley said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re living with them or not.”

Bennington College, Marlboro College, Middlebury College and the University of Vermont also offer gender-inclusive housing options.

As a student at UVM, Churchill served as program director for the Cakes with a Cause living and learning community. Some of the suites within the Living and Learning Center were co-ed with two bathrooms, she said.

“If men wanted to join my program they could have,” she said. “Some suites had half women and half men, which actually worked out pretty well at UVM. It takes a lot of work and a lot of planning.”

Gender-inclusive housing comes as Castleton Residence Life continues to increase themed housing options for students including Wellness, Honors and Service housing.

“It’s something we’re trying to expand on and I think it’s getting better every year, so that’s something that’s really exciting for me,” she said. “It was such a big part of my experience at UVM and something that made me happy. I don’t think I would have fit well in normal housing so I think it’s important to have themed houses to work with people who need a non traditional housing situation.”

Patry, a Castleton alum himself, is excited to see Castleton keeping up with the trends.

“I’m glad Castleton is on the cutting edge of this,” he said. “I like to see we’re toward the top of that lot.”

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