Tyler Clementi killed himself by jumping off the 213-foot tall George Washington Bridge. Clementi’s heterosexual roommate at Rutgers University had been secretly broadcasting Clementi’s homosexual encounters in their dorm room.
On Sept. 21, Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi posted, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again,” according to an abcnews.com article. In this instance, gender-neutral housing may have spared Tyler Clementi’s life.
An average student has enough stress stemming from the hassles of college and its sometimes convoluted, disappointing housing component. Students may not get to room in their favored dormitory or apartment, or they may end up roped to a roommate with whom they get along even less. With lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students, potential roommate issues are immensely intensified.
What if roommates of LGBT students aren’t comfortable living with an LGBT person in close, dorm-sized quarters? What about bathroom sharing? What about when significant others pay visits? Gender-neutral housing, allowing heterosexual and LGBT students the option to choose to live with a same or opposite-sex roommate, is a considerate and evolved solution.
Spurred by Clementi’s tragic death, Rutgers will offer gender-neutral housing in three dorms starting this fall.
Joan Carbone, Rutgers’ residence life director, said in a March 1 article from Fox News that the idea was brought to life after conversing with LGBT students and hearing from them the difficulty involved in finding an accepting roommate.
Jenny Kurtz, Rutgers’ director of the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, part of Student Affairs, said in a March 4 article from Rutgers Today that she believes in the program and the fact that traditional housing is not appropriate or ideal for all students.
“In the last decade, there has been a steady rise of college students across the country requesting gender-neutral housing options, including students at Rutgers,” Kurtz said. “Transgender students in particular thought it would make housing more equitable for people who identify as transgender and may not feel comfortable rooming with someone of the same legal sex. The program also increases options for all students to choose a roommate with whom they are compatible, regardless of gender,” Kurtz reported to Rutgers Today.
California’s Pitzer College began offering mixed-gender dorms last year. According to a March 2010 Los Angeles Times article, Kayla Eland, female, and Lindon Pronto, male, began sharing a room last year on the second floor of their dorm. Neither is gay and they are not a couple; they are simply compatible roommates. Eland said that a roommate’s personality and study habits are more important than gender.
“This might not be right for everyone,” she said of sharing the small, cinderblock-walled room with a man. “But I think it’s important to have the right to choose where you want to live, how you want to live and who you want to live with.”
Whether straight or LGBT, no student wants to dread his or her living situation. Balancing classes, exams, extracurricular activities and having any semblance of a social life is enough. Tiffs with a roommate over whose food is whose or keeping the light on while studying is completely normal; taping your roommate’s sexual activities is not. Students’ homes away from home may be tiny, lacking in luxuries and bare-boned, but they must provide some sort of comfort. The place where you relax and should feel most safe and secure should be with a roommate who enhances that feeling.
Hopefully, gender-neutral housing will become a nationwide phenomenon and then a regularity. Students of every sexual orientation deserve to be able to choose who they feel most safe and comfortable living with. Unfortunately, Tyler Clementi will never know this feeling, but that doesn’t mean we can’t prevent others from suffering his same fate.
Andrea Bolt is a senior news-editorial journalism major from The Woodlands.