Why this PA College is Incorporating Gender-Inclusive Housing

Elizabethtown CollegeFall 2015 will be the very first semester that students at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, PA will have the power of choice. This year, any student living on the first or second floor of Founders Residence Hall will have the option to select a roommate of any gender, breaking down the barrier of the standard gender-divided setup that most colleges employ.

While some students and parents alike might be perfectly comfortable – and even strongly prefer – a gender divide when it comes to who rooms with whom, many students feel that this isn’t the best option for them: transgender, gay, and lesbian students, to name a few. It goes without saying that a homosexual or transgendered roommate will not always have a roommate who is comfortable with that, which can quickly create tension. When students room with other students they feel a companionship with, all parties are more comfortable.

The first floor of the Founders Building is also referred to as “Stonewall Hall”: a Living-Learning Community (LLC) dedicated to LGBTQ issues. This is just one of many of E-town’s LLCs, all of which are put in place to encourage a better sense of community among classmates and peers. In these LLCs, both students and faculty get the opportunity to engage both within and outside of a learning environment. Some of these are themed, such as Stonewall Hall, while others are based around certain courses and disciplined.

In a survey taken last year, 74% of Elizabethtown students were in favor of the gender-inclusive housing, and over 50% said they’d consider living there.

Not the First
Elizabethtown is definitely taking a progressive approach to student living, but it is far from the first college to do so. Across the US, over 200 colleges and universities have adopted a similar approach. Among Elizabethtown’s kind are Franklin & Marshall College and Penn State University, and Millersville hopes to join them in 2016.

For students who wish to live in gender-inclusive housing, no explaining is necessary. The process of creating a safe living space is supposed to be unintrusive, so they can do so with no questions asked. If two heterosexual students of different genders wish to room together, they have the option to do so – though the school hopes that students do recognize it is not a good idea for romantic couples to cohabitate.