Last week, Texas Christian University announced that it would be offering special themed housing for gay students. This week, in a whiplash-turnaround, the university said that that plan was off the table for the foreseeable future. What happened? And should colleges offer special housing for LGBT students anyway?
Texas Christian University (TCU) is located in Fort Worth Texas, and has a student body of roughly 7,500 undergraduates. Currently these students are welcome to sort themselves into so-called "learning communities," or themed housing. That means that TCU offers a Green House for ecologically-concerned students, and a Language and International Living House for foreign language practice. Last Wednesday, campus administrators announced that beginning in fall of 2009, a new on-campus living community would be beginning, called "DiversCity Q", and entailing grouped housing on campus for self-selected LGBT students and the straight students who support them. The University also announced new themed housing for students concerned with patriotism, Christianity, artistic creativity, and marine biology. In short, not only the gays would be getting new homes.
TCU sophomore Shelly Newkirk had initiated the program for on-campus gay-themed housing, and had eight students prepared to live in the designated apartments. "Well I've been trying to create a safe space on campus for the queer community," she said in a radio interview. "We're not creating just like a bubble for ourselves, but creating a space where we can have open dialogue and students can be comfortable." TCU spokeswoman Lisa Albert put the new housing in a broad perspective, saying the University's intention is that students "are able to live with and near other students who have similar interests." Still, the addition of LGBT housing would make TCU the first campus in North Texas with such a program. While burying the announcement in the midst of a list that included Christian-themed housing may have been intended to quiet a media storm, the University had no such luck.
On Monday, TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini announced that the LGBT living center was off the table—along with the other new themed housing for fall and potentially every other type of themed housing at the university. "TCU will not launch any new living learning communities at this time," the Chancellor said. "Instead we will assess whether the concept of housing residential students based on themes supports the academic mission of the institution as well as our objective to provide a total university experience." While the Chancellor reiterated that TCU, "will maintain its long-standing commitment to the inclusiveness of all people," the loss of the living center dealt a serious blow to gay activists on campus.
Many American colleges and universities have backed away from exactly the fight that the Chancellor at TCU found himself facing. Typically, however, campuses have handled the question through a less obvious method, by instituting gender-neutral housing. Nearly 30 U.S. colleges and universities offer a version of gender-neutral housing, including Connecticut College, Wesleyan University, Swarthmore College, Brown University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Cornell University and Columbia University. This type of housing allows students to live together irrespective of gender. It thus indirectly benefits LGBT students by allowing them to live together as couples or letting them self-select a gender identity. It does not, however, place those students in separate "gay-themed" housing, either by choice or coercion. For the TCU students, the gender-neutral option may have to be a next step, now that a designated gay living area is off the table.
What do you think? Should Texas Christian University have gone through with gay-themed housing? Is gender-neutral housing the same thing? Take our poll!