U of O looks into same-sex rooms for residences

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By fall 2012, the University of Ottawa may allow members of the opposite sex to share rooms in all residences across campus.

Right now, the U of O has two apartment-style residences that house two-to-four individuals in each complex where students can live with people of the opposite sex. The U of O Students' Federation president Tyler Steeves wants to expand this to include four other residence buildings.

"In conventional residences or only a two-person apartment, there are strictly same-sex roommates," said Steeves. "We are looking into providing other options for students and have begun lobbying for the motion to pass."

The U of O's Students' Federation says this change will create a safe haven or "gender blind" living arrangement for students with changing sexual identities and help accommodate students in their self-discovery. The process still needs to go through many steps with university administration before it is passed.

Student representatives argue the changes will allow students more benefits, such as choosing their own roommate.

"Same-sex rooms have passed at other schools, so we have begun lobbying for it," Steeves said. "Right now, there isn't a choice and you are only be able to choose a male roommate if you are a male and vice-versa. We want to be able to give a choice to students."

The Students' Federation said it is not up to the university to decide who students can live with in lieu of section 19 of the school's resident agreement which states, "men and women can share the same unit in traditional and unit residence."

"I think it's the student's prerogative who they live with," said University of Calgary Students' Union vice-president operations and finance James Delaney. "If the idea of residence is to provide safe and affordable housing for students and the student can't live with who they want, they will go elsewhere off campus."

Fourth-year U of C biology student Meghan Keelan doesn't think co-ed rooms would be a good idea.

"If people are worried about living with the same sex or are being bullied, single rooms are available," she said. "If anything, there should be designated floors."

Traditional residence is made up of one male wing, one female wing and one co-ed wing. Keelan said opposite-sex rooms would bring up other issues that could cause problems for the university, especially if roommates are dating.

Research conducted in 2009 by a team from Bringham Young University in Utah studied more than 500 students living in campus residences at five US universities. They found 42 per cent of students in co-ed housing engaged in binge drinking, compared to only 18 per cent of those in single-sex housing.

Last month, Yale University announced plans for co-ed rooms to begin this fall. The Yale residence agreement states, "students in romantic relationships are discouraged from living together in mixed-gender suites."

Many Canadian universities are behind their American counterparts on what Steeves is calling a "progressive movement."

New Jersey's Rutgers University announced March 1 that students will soon be offered mixed-gender housing. The implementation of this was largely due to lobbying from LGBTQA student groups after Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers University, jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death last September. His friends and family linked his suicide bullying by his roommate about Clementi's sexual orientation. Rutgers freshmen can now request a roommate who is supportive of their sexual preference regardless of gender.

U of C housing services manager TJ Fedyk said the school offers co-ed rooming in apartment-style residences, but is currently not looking to expand these options to traditional style residences.

"We have come a long ways and have had co-ed apartment residences for many years," said Fedyk.

Every floor in the U of C's traditional residences have a female and male only wing, as well as a mixed gender area where bathrooms are shared, but roommates are still of the same gender.

Fedyk said the biggest problem with mixed sex living arrangements is when two partners get into a fight, break up and then want to move out.

"We have many resources in place and have transgender students place them in areas where they feel comfortable," said Fedyk. "We work closely with students who feel like they might have problems because of their orientation. If they come to us and they would be better in a single room then we are very quick to provide. We do our best to not place students in an uncomfortable situations."

The U of O proposal is still in its research stage, but if passed could be in place as early as next year.