The University of North Carolina's board of governors has voted without any public discussion to ban gender-neutral housing at all campuses in the UNC school system.
A pilot program for gender-neutral housing was scheduled to begin at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall 2013 semester, with 32 spaces devoted to the program. But the board of governors on Friday barred all UNC campuses from instituting the housing, without allowing students to voice their opinion. The ban goes into effect this month.
"It is pretty disappointing, and it sends a message, not only to the UNC School System, and the LGBTQ students who are a part of the UNC System, but it also sends a message nationally to LGBTQ Students," recent UNC Charlotte graduate Gonzalo Agudelo told Chapelboro.com. "Their voice wasn’t heard and it seemed that their voice wasn’t important."
Peter Hans, chair of the board of governors, said that the board's meetings are not public hearings and that there was was no opposition among board members "whatsoever," Chapelboro.com reports.
The new policy bars students of opposite genders from living in the same dorm suites or apartments, which proponents argue is critical to ensuring LGBT students' safety and protecting them from harassment at their residences. The exceptions are roommates who are siblings or legally married, or if a parent and child are living together, according to the Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The board of governor's decision follows failed attempts by state lawmakers to put a stop to the pilot program for gender neutral housing.
UNC-Chapel Hill declined to comment on the decision. Representatives for the Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition and the LGBTQ Center at UNC-Chapel Hill said they are "disappointed."
"We will continue to educate the key stakeholders and the campus community about the critical role that gender non-specific housing plays in providing safe housing options for all students," Kevin Claybren, student coordinator of the Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition, and Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center, said in a joint statement.
Meanwhile, the social conservative group NC Values Coalition applauded the board's decision.
"With this uniform policy, our public universities and colleges can get back to the business of educating our students and preparing them to be productive members of our society, instead of promoting co-habitation among students of the opposite sex," Tami Fitzgerald, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "Most taxpayers in North Carolina, and certainly most parents, do not desire to send their children to colleges and universities where they can decide to live with students of the opposite sex without their input."
Fitzgerald argued in a letter last week to the board of governors' chairman that gender-neutral housing violates the Constitution. "Both our state Constitution and our federal Constitution prohibit 'special emoluments' or privileges, because it is inherently unfair to single out a certain group of students and give them special privileges," she wrote.
Gender-neutral housing is increasingly becoming available across the country, including at in-state rival Duke University and seven of the eight Ivy League schools. When the UNC-Chapel Hill trustees voted in November to institute the housing, then-Chancellor Holden Thorp said that it's "an important project that is vital to protecting the safety of our students."