REHS reveals housing changes

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Author: Margaret Su

Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS) is instituting major changes in on-campus housing policies that will take effect this fall. According to REHS Director Chad Myers, these changes include an increase in the availability of gender inclusive facilities, the designation of Wylie Hall as a substance free hall and the shift of Newcomb Hall to upper-division only and Bell-Young Hall to first-year residential housing.

Over 60 students expressed interest in substance free housing in a survey sent out by REHS in January. In response to this feedback, REHS will designate Wylie as a substance free hall. The idea was first proposed by students on the Alcohol and Other Drugs Committee, chaired by Myers. Based on the initial level of student interest, Myers expects the option to be somewhat popular and anticipates increased enthusiasm in the future.

REHS decided to convert Bell-Young into a first-year hall in place of Newcomb because, while the two buildings have similar floor plans and amenities, Bell-Young is small enough to only house first-year students, which REHS believes is more ideal than Newcomb’s 50-50 split between first-year and upper-division housing.

The switch will make Newcomb an entirely upper-division hall, allowing its residents over 21 to consume alcohol within the building — which is forbidden in all first-year halls. Newcomb’s third floor will remain the Global Diversity Floor, created last year in partnership with the International Programs Office.

Myers also said that requiring students to move out of their rooms in Newcomb over winter break to make room for winter athletes was an unfair burden to place on first years who were not initially aware of this obligation. Returning students, he said, should know of this requirement prior to selecting a room in Newcomb. He hopes that students who intend to stay on campus over winter break will choose to live in Newcomb in order to minimize unnecessary transitions.

While the changes affecting Wylie, Newcomb and Bell-Young were conceived relatively recently, students’ desire for increased gender inclusive housing has existed since at least 2009, and Queer Student Alliance (QSA) Vice President Margaux Ziss (sophomore) said it is very likely this desire has been around prior to that. Ziss and QSA President Alexis Morse (sophomore) attribute much of the recent progress in gender inclusivity to the efforts of Oxy United for Black Liberation.

“Since the occupation, administrative offices on campus have started actually listening and making changes for queer and trans students,” Morse said via email.

Previously, students who wished to live in gender inclusive rooms — rooms not limited to residents of the same gender — had to apply through a process separate from the regular room draw and were limited to double rooms in Berkus Hall.

Morse said student attendance at a March 1 community meeting on gender inclusive housing, hosted by REHS, QSA and the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB), demonstrated to REHS that further changes to the current system must be made to expand gender inclusive housing options for both upper-division and first-year students. Morse expressed her appreciation for Myers’ cooperation with QSA and for students’ thoughtful questions and comments during the meeting.

Starting this spring during room draw for the 2016–17 school year, gender inclusive housing will be available to all students through the normal room draw process. Berkus Hall, Haines Hall and the second floor of Pauley Hall will be entirely gender inclusive, along with all themed living communities in Norris Hall and the various campus houses — except for the women-only Berkus House.

Chilcott, a first-year residence hall, will feature gender inclusive bathrooms and co-ed floors. Incoming first years will also have the option to request gender inclusive rooms located in Chilcott, according to Morse.

“[QSA’s] ultimate goal is to make the presence of gender inclusive and gendered spaces more equitable across campus,” Morse said via email. “We want gender inclusive spaces to be normalized and prominent, not tucked away.”

Although the changes in gender inclusive housing will not directly affect all students, many see the value in instituting such changes, particularly as a means of reducing the marginalization of those students of queer gender identities, Ziss said.

According to Ziss, the lack of adequate housing spaces forces queer students to make reductive decisions about their identities on a daily basis, as queer students constantly conform to the gender binary even within the space of their own rooms. If students reject the gender binary, Ziss said, they should not be housed within it.

“We want to invert the culture here at Occidental, from having gender segregated housing be the norm, to having gender inclusive housing be the norm,” Ziss said.

Although the expansion of gender inclusive housing to two upper-division halls and one first-year hall has received much positive feedback, Ziss acknowledged that such changes will not necessarily be accompanied by a shift in the culture at Occidental surrounding gender inclusivity. She recognizes that ensuring all students are comfortable with gender inclusive housing requires additional education on gender discrimination.

The survey that QSA and DEB released March 14 on gender inclusive housing and bathrooms was created in an effort to learn what percentage of students are interested in and/or supportive of gender inclusive housing. The survey results will also indicate how knowledgeable students are about gender inclusive housing options on campus and what sort of education on the matter will be necessary to ensure the success of these changes.

“If we truly are welcoming to all identities, that needs to be integrated into every physical space on campus,” Ziss said.

Myers is supportive of the current changes as well as of the future expansion of gender inclusive housing, but is doubtful that the campus will ever be entirely gender inclusive.

“I’m happy to offer as many gender inclusive spots as possible, but I have to think of every student,” Myers said. “I know that there are some students who come from religious or cultural backgrounds that wouldn’t allow them to live in that space. I think that’s an important thing to take into account when we’re making this push to go forward with gender inclusive [housing].”

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