Co-ed Housing in Apartment Village Causes New Concerns

COLIN LIKAS | Editor-In-Chief

It’s not uncommon to have men and women living in the same floor of a residence hall on Butler’s campus.

However, Butler will get its first taste of co-educational, on-campus rooms this fall in Apartment Village.

Co-educational, also known as co-ed, living descibes an area in which men and women can both live.

Co-ed rooms in AV for next school year were provided to five groups of four, each consisting of a mix of men and women, during the housing selection process in March.

Thirty-four rooms were made available for such groups between buildings K, L and M. The cost of these rooms was not any different than a same-sex AV` room.

Doug Howell, Residence Life associate director, said co-ed rooms were assigned to those three buildings in order to more easily monitor the concept’s development.

“We have learned from other colleagues at other institutions and by going to conferences that the best practice is to make sure you put it in a place and make sure you assess it and see how it’s going,” he said. “That’s not to say it would stay there forever—that’s just where we’re starting.”

Howell also said rooms in those apartments are often picked last among AV residences, and there happened to be a gender-inclusive group toward the end of the lottery number list.

“Had we not put it in K, L and M, they wouldn’t have gotten in,” he said. “(It was) a bonus there that we were able to align what we thought might happen with making sure it didn’t (negatively) impact the groups as much as possible.”

Sophomores Blake Federman and Taylor Smith are living in a co-ed room in Building K next semester. They both said they were frustrated with the limitation imposed on where their group could live.

“That was unfair, I thought, because they let groups of all girls and all boys choose those houses (further south), so some of the better apartments,” Smith said. “There were a lot (of rooms) open, even facing the football field, that we just weren’t allowed to pick.”

Federman and Smith said they felt the reason for limited selection for co-ed groups was not truly explained to them.

“It might make the student body happy that Butler is being a little more lenient, but (it can also cause) frustration because it comes with a limit,” Federman said.

Howell said the only complaint he heard during the selection process from students who intended to live co-ed was “why are you making us pick from here.”

“All of the Apartment Village apartments are basically the same except where they’re physically located on the Village grounds,” he said. “It makes sense that students would say that, and they were not thinking on the back end about assessment and training and making sure we’re able to make sure this is going in the right direction.”

The decision to introduce co-ed housing on campus follows President James Danko’s recent announcement of Butler’s partnership with American Campus Communities to create new on-campus housing by fall 2016.

Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs, said AV’s presence on campus allows Butler to take advantage of chance to improve its housing.

“Apartment Village represents an opportunity as it relates to what we’ve seen trending on college campuses across the country, which is gender-inclusive housing,” he said. “We probably could’ve made that decision when we first built Apartment Village, and I’m still not sure why we didn’t do it then.”

Constituents from the Executive Council, Staff Assembly and Parent Council provided feedback on Butler’s proposal for co-ed housing on campus. Research done by Butler’s Gender Equity Commission also spurred the decision to try out this type of housing.

Johnson and Howell said the reaction was almost entirely positive.

“We want to be proactive. This type of housing will appeal and meet the needs better of someone who doesn’t fit into that gender binary of male or female,” Howell said. “While we have not had that particular request, that’s not to say it won’t happen in the future.”

Both Howell and Johnson said they looked at housing of many peer institutions prior to making this decision. However, Howell specifically cited documentation for co-ed housing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as the model for Butler’s documentation.

Howell said the application process for those wishing to live in a co-ed room varied little from the typical process. An extra agreement had to be signed by gender-inclusive groups that Howell described as “more of an acknowledgment of the special requirements” related to living with members of another gender.

Despite no large obstacles existing to prevent students from applying for co-ed rooms, gender-inclusive foursomes only filled approximately 15 percent of the available spaces.

One likely reason for this, Howell said, is that Housing Services did not get information about this change out as quickly as it would have liked.

Two potentially more prominent reasons, however, are social and personal norms.

Johnson said those norms were part of the reason he was not surprised by how few gender-inclusive groups committed to the new option.

“I think students are mindful of whatever expectations they have of themselves and family values and morals,” he said. “If that’s something they would be looking for, they’d have the patience to do it when they left housing.”

Along those same lines, Howell said some foursomes pulled away from the option after group members discussed it with their parents.

“I think probably the biggest hold up for this is parental influence and opinion,” he said.

Federman said he decided to be part of a gender-inclusive housing group because some of his female friends asked him to, and because it allowed him to take advantage of a little more freedom on campus.

For Smith, co-ed housing is a long-awaited opportunity.

“If it was always available, I probably would’ve went straight to that,” she said. “I was really happy because all my girlfriends are in sororities, and I would never live with them. Butler doesn’t let me live off campus as a junior, so I was glad I was able to find people to live with.”

It is not immediately clear how gender-inclusive housing could spread to other on-campus housing options in the future, but Johnson said this initial implementation “opens up the thoughts and dreams.”

“As it relates to options, we are providing more and more for students, we are listening to students, and we appreciate their feedback and family input as well,” he said. “More than being responsive, we’re trying to be responsible.”