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UB offering gender-blind dorm rooms

If you haven't realized yet just how much college has changed, the University at Buffalo offers this reminder:

For the first time this fall, UB will allow students of the opposite sex to share a room.

And your parents thought coed dorms were scandalous.

The "gender-neutral" housing, as it's called, only will be offered to a handful of students -- at least at this point.

University officials point out that at present students can live off campus wherever they want and with whomever they want. Officials feel that students do better academically when they live on campus, and this option may encourage more of them to do that.

"The role of the university is not to determine with whom students may or may not live, but rather to empower its students to make their own decisions responsibly," said Andrea Costantino, director of campus living at UB. "In today's society there is no reason why someone should not be living with whom he or she feels most comfortable."

Before you start imagining it's all boyfriends and girlfriends rooming together, UB officials said the change wasn't necessarily done with that scenario in mind.

"It certainly wasn't the focus of our change in this policy," said Brian Haggerty, senior associate director of campus living at UB. "It's an outcome, and it certainly permits for that, but our goal really was to make the policies more inclusive by being less restrictive."

Over the years, transgender students have come to UB, only to be disappointed with the campus' same-sex housing policy.

"I thought it was an outdated policy," said Trey Ufholcz, a recent UB graduate. "I think as a society, we have progressed."

Ufholcz, a transgender student who earned his master's degree in social work at UB, brought the issue to the attention of administrators last year, along with research on why, where and how gender-neutral housing has been implemented on campuses elsewhere.

In fact, this housing option has been growing on campuses across the nation, with several dozen colleges and universities now allowing students of the opposite sex to live together, according to the National Student Genderblind Campaign.

The organization -- which promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender housing policies on college campuses -- said a new wave of colleges has been embracing the housing option as a way to provide a safer environment for LGBT students.

UB had been contemplating the idea for the past couple of years, and gave the proposal the go-ahead.

The university believes it is the only school in the area that offers gender-neutral housing, although Geneseo State College is among those that also implemented the policy.

Students were offered the option this spring when making a deposit for their campus housing in the fall.

The university doesn't ask them why they made the choice, or whether they're romantically involved with their roommate.

UB's residence halls are all coed, but this is the first time males and females will be able to room together.

The option is available for 12 students in three apartments in Hadley Village on the North Campus in Amherst, which is for upperclassman, and four people in two apartments in Creekside, which is for graduate students.

But the gender-neutral housing also will be available for 20 to 25 students on two floors of Red Jacket Hall in the Ellicott Complex on the North Campus.