Chapel Hill, N.C. — The Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Thursday unanimously approved a measure that would allow students the option of living in the same dorm suite with students of the opposite sex.
Gender non-specific housing, which will be implemented for the fall semester, will mean students in the program can live in a suite – a group of dorm rooms that share the same bathroom – or campus apartment with students of any gender.
Students of the opposite sex will not be allowed to share the same room.
Supporters of the option have said that the move will benefit students – specifically gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students – who are being harassed and bullied in traditional on-campus housing.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said the move is vital to protecting the safety of UNC-Chapel Hill students.
"This is an important project for the university and one that I think is vital to protecting the safety of our students," Thorp told the board Thursday.
"We all know about the tragic incident that happened at Rutgers a couple of years ago," he added, referring to Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who committed suicide in a well-known case of gay bullying by his roommate.
Under UNC's plan, students will have to apply to be part of the program, and university administrators say it will affect only a small percentage of suites and apartments.
"No one will be forced into this option," said Terri Phoenix, director of UNC-Chapel Hill's LGBTQ Center. "It really is an issue of safety for our students. In the end, this is about people having a safe place to live and to study."
The option is open to all students 18 and older, and all the same university housing policies will apply.
"I think that everyone who comes to this university deserves to feel safe and respected and welcome, and this is a step toward making it happen," UNC-Chapel Hill student Katie Orndahl said.
Orndahl and other supporters were surprised that trustees endorsed the measure, something they have been working toward for years.
"We were blown away that this was happening and that it was affirmed unanimously," said Kevin Claybren, student coordinator for the Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition. "This just does not impact LGBT students, it impacts all the students at this university."
Gender non-specific housing isn't new. Nearly 100 colleges nationwide – including seven of UNC-Chapel Hill's peer universities – have the option.
The list includes Duke University and the University of Maryland.