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Living co-ed? No big deal, students say

When Southern Oregon University junior Montique Holman gets dressed in the morning, she slips into the closet of the dormitory room she shares with sophomore Stephen Williams.

But other residents on SOU's new gender-inclusive dormitory in Diamond Hall at the Ashland campus are less concerned with modesty in front of their opposite-sex roommates.

It's just not that big of a deal, residents say. And it's not anything new. Scores of gender-inclusive dorms exist at colleges and universities nationwide.

"Some people make a big deal about this, but it's just life," says junior Amber Templeton. "We are one of the later colleges to get this, and it's pretty cool."

Holman and Stephens are two of the 14 inaugural residents of the dorm.

Now in their new space for more than a month, residents say the mood in the dorm is laid back and harmonious.

Holman attributes much of that harmony to the balance they've struck between masculine and feminine forces, as well as acceptance of each other.

While some of the dorm's founders wanted to open the dorm to provide a safe place for residents who don't identify with their gender at birth, many of the residents don't fit that category. Some are heterosexual; others are homosexual.

Holman, for example, wanted to remain in the same room she had last year. Her room just happened to be located in the hall that was to be transformed into the gender-inclusive quarters.

Williams, who transferred to SOU this year from a university in New York, wasn't looking for a gender-inclusive dorm or even a female roommate, but he was informed about the new dorm and decided he would show his support for it by moving in.

"Gender isn't a big deal," says a resident who calls herself "Felix" and declines to give her real name. "I'm not a very feminine person. I would feel out of place in an all-girls dorm because on girls' floors there tends to be more drama. It can be kind of scary when girls are all in one place."

Most of the residents say their friends and families haven't opposed — or even made jokes about — their living situation.

The dormitory finally was equipped with bathrooms Oct. 27 after an unexpected setback.

The city of Ashland rejected the university's first design for bathrooms because it didn't provide enough privacy for co-ed quarters based on Oregon Structural Specialty Code.

The original bathroom design called for floor-to-ceiling toilet stalls and shower stalls and dressing rooms all in a common room.

To comply with the code, SOU built separate toilet rooms with locks and separate shower rooms with locks.

"I think that was excessive," Holman says. "If they trust us to share a bedroom, why not share a bathroom? It doesn't make sense."

Nonetheless, the residents say they are thrilled to have the bathrooms. They previously had to hike to other floors in the dorm.

"The bathrooms are wonderful," says junior Ryan Murillo.

On the Web: www.sou.edu/housing/reshall/gender.html.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Freshmen Jasmine Lane and Zachary Avery share a room in Southern Oregon University's Diamond Hall, the school's first gender-inclusive dorm. - Bob Pennell