Before you launch a campaign to change your school’s policies or practices, you have to know what they are! Start by looking at your school’s housing policies. Some schools are better than others in explaining what they are. Policies can usually be found in your school’s handbook of regulations, housing contract, or residential life manual. Look for any clause that prohibits students from selecting a roommate of a different gender or sex. Most schools will not have a written policy, and simply assume that students will acquiesce to convention. To address any ambiguity, contact your housing director, or talk to an administrator (eg. Dean of Students). Some schools will handle the issue on a case-to-case basis, others will say “no” all together, while a few will approve of policy change on the spot. Whether or not your school decides handle gender-neutral housing “requests” on a case-to-case basis or ban it entirely, it’s important to make this housing option available to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status.
Identify Core Values
What does your school believe in? Equality? Diversity? Social Justice? Fairness? What kind of language do existing policies use? Research your school’s non-discrimination, affirmative action, equal opportunity, and bias incident policies. Find out if they’re inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. This will come in handy when you are making the case for gender-neutral housing.
Write the Proposal
We’ve found that written proposals have the best chance of getting passed by college administration. They also are an opportunity to document your concerns (on gender-neutral housing and other campus issues). Develop your proposal by writing down the issues at stake, and the reasons why this matters; use the core values you’ve identified, the implications of your proposal, and responses to any potential objections.
Once you have a draft of your proposal, find likeminded people. You don’t need to go it alone! With more supportive people, your initiative has more clout and will garner more attention in the sea of student proposals. Start with LGBT/queer groups, students involved in residential life, student government, women’s rights groups, professors, and progressive administrators. Listen to their concerns and suggestions and incorporate them into your proposal. Join these campus groups in tabling, petition drives, speak-outs, chalking, and community-wide meetings to increase visibility and support for your campaign. Form coalitions, build relationships, and maintain them.
Submit the Proposal
After several drafts and consultations with members of your group or coalition, prepare it for decision-makers on your campus. This might include your Director of Housing, Dean of Students, and President. You may also want to send your proposal to the director of your multicultural and/or LGBT center if you have one. Prepare an electronic version and send a hardcopy to the administration, but hold off on sending it to your college or university’s Board of Trustees or Regents—we find that they tend to be a lot more conservative and conventional than campus administrators. Now is also a good time to send any petitions, resolutions from the student government, endorsements from organizations, and additional information that could make a difference. Many campus institutions still rely on “popular support,” so showing that many students are on board can make a strong impact. It’s important to follow up with your proposal. Remember, it can take a while for change to happen, especially at large bureaucratic institutions. Periodically check in with the administration and ask them for an update as well as any concerns or issues they need addressed. Keep the dialogue open. In the meantime, document all of your work by putting it in a binder, file, or website. Reach out to us!!