May 9 2012 12:00 AM

New MSU housing options taking effect in the fall means more equality for LGBT students

After years of student advocacy, Michigan State University joins the ranks of other campuses around the state and country that offer gender-neutral housing options.

With the implementation of “flexible” housing options starting in the fall, students can live with anyone in certain dorms on campus regardless of gender. West McDonel Hall on the east side of campus and North Wonders Hall on the west side will offer one floor each of flexible housing, equating to 40 possible spots.

The move is “certainly nothing new at other universities,” said Kathy Collins, director of Campus Living Services and Residence Life at MSU. She said prospective sophomores could apply for the spots for the upcoming fall semester.

The choice of halls was based on the suite-style rooms with private bathrooms, she said. There will be a follow-up study to gauge student satisfaction and need level.

The change is a sign of progress for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual students, advocates say, because it allows students —  regardless of how they identify their gender — to live together.

“It’s not a political statement,” said Deanna Hurlbert, assistant director of the MSU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. “It’s a sign of the changing times.”

The move by the university is a sign of “progress,” Hurlbert said. For years men and women have been living together in off campus houses, co-ops and apartments — it just took time for “campus to catch up.”

Hurlbert said the change is a welcome one because when it comes down to it, “It’s about people living with the people they’re most comfortable with.”

GVSU beat MSU to the punch — and hit harder. 

This past fall the university made gender-neutral housing available throughout their 11 suite-style dormitories, said Collette Seguin Beighley, director of the GVSU LGBT Resource Center.

“Initially we thought that only a few students would take advantage, but there has been a great response and the numbers keep going up,” she said. “It was not on the (administration’s) radar, but students made the need evident.”

Student activism was the key factor in getting the MSU administration on board as well.

Even though he graduated from MSU in 2011, Nick Pfost feels “beyond excited” about the policy adoption.

Pfost was a student leader with the Alliance of Queer & Ally Students and said he wasn’t expecting a victory like this so soon.

“In the wake of the decision I’m feeling so proud to be part of this community,” Pfost said. “Other schools have had difficulty in implementing these kinds of policies. The way we set things up, we were mentally prepared for a long battle.”

The “low rumblings” of conversation about gender-neutral housing began in 2009, Pfost said. Then in the summer of 2010, the “visible push” began. Student LGBT, government and housing groups worked together over the years to create informational sessions for students and administrators as well as researching policies at other colleges to see what worked.

Pfost said overall the MSU administration was “supportive” from the beginning. 

LGBT students will now have housing options that will provide them with more comfortable living environments, but Pfost, Hurlbert and Beighley all agreed the positive impacts go beyond the LGBT community and will make life easier for any student who is interested — be it best friends or brothers and sisters.

In fact, Collins said the first inquiry into gender-neutral housing was a mother wondering if her son and daughter could live together — and there have been numerous applications since.