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'U' official says open housing unlikely to be an option for fall

BY ROBIN VEECK
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 23, 2010

Correction Appended: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the cost of Saturday night dining. University Housing would have to re-allocate $350,000 to successfully implement the program. The story also incorrectly reported that Linda Newnan told students at an MSA meeting that open housing would be an unlikely option for next fall. She made the statement in an interview.

A University official said after Tuesday night's Michigan Student Assembly meeting that it’s unlikely an open housing option will be offered to University Housing residents next fall.

Members of the Open Housing Initiative submitted a proposal to University Housing yesterday, recommending that gender-neutral housing be offered in residence halls beginning next fall. Despite enthusiasm from various MSA members and others in the campus community, Director of University Housing Linda Newman, who answered questions about residence hall policies at last night’s meeting, was less than optimistic about the proposed timeframe.

“Well, typically we always do the room sign-up for returning students in late January,” Newman said in an interview after last night’s meeting. “Before people sign up, we have a marketing period where we let people know what to expect, what we’re offering. And prior to that we have to get the computer set, so that the rooms are all typed.”

Newman said she had not seen the open housing proposal — which has been in the works for months — though MSA representative and Open Housing Initiative member Allison Horky said the report was sent out yesterday before the meeting.

“I haven’t seen it. I haven’t received it,” Newman said of the proposal at last night’s meeting. “It’s really hard for me to tell you what the process will be when I don’t know what it is. It’s really hard to develop a response when you don’t know what you’re responding to.”

Horky said she was confused by the meeting’s developments because she thought Newman was in the loop throughout the proposal process.

“Essentially, we’ve given the proposal to the administrators to look through, and then we’ll kind of sit down and talk about all the ideas and hopefully the students will continue to be in the driver's seat,” Horky said. “The administrators are really receptive to our ideas and what we have to say.”

The submitted proposal recommended that returning students be given the option to select a roommate of the opposite gender or unidentified gender for Fall 2011.

The proposal also included results from a campus survey that indicated that the majority of residence hall residents support open housing, as well as student anecdotes supporting the initiative and information on other institutions that offer gender-neutral housing.

MSA passed a resolution in December 2009 urging the University to support a gender-neutral housing option. In April, the Residence Halls Association also voted to support the initiative.

At last night’s meeting, Newman also fielded questions about the possibility of re-introducing Saturday night meals in the dining halls — one of the main campaign platforms of the MForward party and of MSA President Chris Armstrong during last winter's election cycle.

“I think it’s very clear that there’s a sizeable portion of students who are here on the weekend who really would like to see Saturday night dining,” Newman said in an interview after the meeting. “And so we want to work with the students to figure out how we can do that.”

Newman and Trevor Grieb, president of the Residential Hall Association, said MSA members and other interested students currently have limited options for working on the Saturday night dining initiative. Grieb said the proposed changes to the budget would have to come from an RHA committee, requiring “unprecedented” action from University housing residents.

Currently, only current residents in University housing can attend RHA meetings, so this procedure would exclude the majority of MSA members — many of whom live off campus.

Newman noted that $350,000 would have to be re-allocated for Saturday night dining to be successfully implemented.

“We can provide Saturday night dining, we just need to make choices,” she said.