Although students asked SOU to allow men and women to be roommates in part of one dorm next fall, others oppose the plan

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University will establish a gender-neutral floor in the Diamond Hall dormitory next fall, following the example of 57 other colleges and universities in the nation.

The university made the move after being approached by students who didn't want to be segregated by gender, said SOU Resident Life Director Jason Ebbeling.

"It's for students who don't specify gender on their applications," he said. "It's also for students who don't identify with the gender they were born with. It was a group of students who wanted to feel more safe on campus.

"It can be anyone who chooses to live in that environment."

Students who request gender-neutral living will be matched with roommates "based on preference and regardless of gender," Ebbeling said. The living arrangements are not intended for couples to get the same room. "We'll discourage that, but we won't ask specifically (if they are couples)," he said.

The "Gender Inclusive Floor," as SOU's Web site calls it, will have one bathroom for both men and women. Shower and toilet stalls will be built floor-to-ceiling, with private dressing areas attached to showers, Ebbeling said, noting that the intent is "to create a housing option that's safe and comfortable."

Willamette University and Lewis and Clark College have gender-neutral dorms, and University of Oregon will be creating them this fall, he said.

Diamond resident Matthew Forsythe said the arrangement "could be pretty fun, but seems it would have a lot of problems. There always is. I could do it, though. It would be a good learning experience, and for most kids it wouldn't be a problem."

Another Diamond resident, Joshua Weigang, said gender equality wouldn't cause problems and represents "a more accepting and liberal openness."

Other students weren't keen on the concept.

"Not a very good idea. That's pushing it," said freshman Amy Johnson of Diamond Hall.

"It would be uncomfortable. You couldn't do girlie stuff — like walk around in tank top and underwear — without being conscious of boys."

Her friend and dorm mate, Brittany Crafts, agreed.

"It's not really necessary. It would cause a lot of drama. I wouldn't want to room with some random guy."

Student Brittany Bevis said she'd feel comfortable in a gender-neutral dorm.

"I get along much better with boys," she said. "I'm not into the cattiness that can occur with girls. There even were physical fights between the girls in my dorm. Girls hold grudges and are manipulative."

While welcoming the increasingly liberal atmosphere, Bevis made the caveat that "I'd have to feel comfortable with the roommate and knew his intentions weren't sexual."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.