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TCU backs away from plan for gay-themed housing

Texas Christian University has abruptly shelved plans to create more themed housing programs this fall, including one for students interested in gay and lesbian issues.

Texas Christian University has abruptly shelved plans to create more themed housing programs this fall, including one for students interested in gay and lesbian issues.

Monday's decision follows a national uproar, played out on blogs and media Web sites last week, over TCU's plans to reserve a block of rooms in a campus apartment complex for gay and straight students wanting to learn about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini Jr. said the national attention over the gay-related housing theme did not drive his decision to backtrack on themed housing.

"The biggest complaint we got from people was not about any single group but about having these groups in general," said Boschini, whose decision reverses the approval of eight new housing pods, including the gay and lesbian-themed unit. The others - patriotism, Christianity and marine biology, for examples - didn't appear to be controversial.

Boschini said he heard from students, faculty, alumni and others. "Their theory was, it's splitting students up instead of uniting them," he said.

Carson Russell, a TCU student, said the administration's backtracking is ill-advised.

"Now, the community that supported the movement for these housing communities, myself included, is angry at TCU for giving in to those who were against it," Russell said. "I had not heard much, if any, complaint from the majority of the student body, so whoever it was that changed TCU's mind must be more important than its students, I guess."

TCU opened five "living learning communities," as they're called, this school year. The themes are arguably less controversial: honors, leadership, environmental issues, health and wellness, and language and international issues.

Themed housing may be new at TCU, but not so at many other universities.

The University of Minnesota, for instance, offers two dozen housing themes. They include the American Sign Language House, Women in Science and Engineering House, and Lavender House, where "students learn about the history and culture of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied communities."

Texas A&M provides housing for students interested in science, leadership, engineering and other topics. And Georgetown University's offerings include the Muslim Interest Living Community. Among its stated goals: "To increase awareness about Islam on campus and promote understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims."

The eight new themed groups at TCU were all proposed by students. In an e-mail last week, TCU said the process for approving them "is very comprehensive."

Shelly Newkirk, one of the TCU students who proposed the "DiversCity Q" gay-themed housing, said she was disappointed by Monday's decision. Unfortunately, many people got the wrong idea that the housing would be exclusively for gay students, she said.

"The whole mission of our living learning community was to unite within ourselves so we could unite to educate the broader campus," she said. The group had a faculty adviser and planned to discuss a range of issues, from the national debate over civil unions to the Bible's interpretation of homosexuality.

Boschini said a committee of TCU faculty, staff and students will review and recommend guidelines for the living learning communities. The board of trustees has the final say. Meanwhile, the five themed housing programs already on campus will continue until new guidelines are drawn up. And if any new programs are approved, they won't be opening this fall.