"The students there expressed serious concerns about navigating their living environment in our state-owned residence halls," Grandner said. "Their roommate situation could really make or break their college experience."
The program, offered in housing across campus, has grown from about 60 students to about 400 now, she said. About 12,000 students live in College Park's residence halls and the privately managed Courtyards and South Campus Commons apartments.
Alex Stoller's apartment on College Park's campus is a melting pot of six roommates from diverse backgrounds — and a blend of three men and three women, none of whom is gay or transgender.
"It's been eye-opening to live with people of the opposite sex," said Stoller, a sophomore from the Boston suburbs studying journalism. "There's also never drama. Girls can get catty and it can be harder, but with the guys it's nice because it's definitely a family dynamic. We're like brothers and sisters."
"If I want real girl time," she added, "I go to my sorority house."
The growing popularity of mixed-gender housing caught the attention of Parrott, who filed the bill this session to de-fund any institution that offered the option. The bill died in committee in March, but Parrott said he would reintroduce it next year.
Parrott said he was concerned that the housing option would lead to a rise in rapes and distract from the educational experience. He also said the housing option seemed aimed at "a small group of people in the transvestite community" and that "if someone's really uncomfortable, they could have a single room."
Susan Boswell, dean of student life at the Johns Hopkins University, where mixed-gender housing will be offered starting in the fall semester, said student requests to live with another student of a different gender had previously been evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Administrators are "becoming more sensitive to the broad range of needs that their students have," she said, and students are becoming more vocal about their different housing needs.
"We felt this was something that was being offered widely at many institutions," she said. "We felt we were somewhat behind in not providing this option."
Stoller, the College Park student, acknowledged that she could opt to live with students of a different gender if she was living off-campus. But she said living on campus was important to her, especially in her freshman and sophomore years.
"It's part of the college experience," said Stoller, who lives in the Leonardtown Community of apartments. "I personally think everyone should live in a dorm at some point in their life."
Stoller, who is Jewish, said her roommates are a mix of religions and nationalities: one Colombian, one Swedish, one Catholic, one Jamaican and one Vietnamese, making the experience even more diverse.
The roommates cook dinner together, adding to the family-like experience, said Stoller, who said having roommates of different genders and backgrounds has expanded her social circle. Her parents were "a little surprised at first" but have embraced her decision, she said.
"It took some time to get used to, but now it's not a problem at all," said Stoller. "Everyone seems to be supportive about it. They understand that we're really best friends."
Campus gender-neutral housing
Frostburg State University: Started in 2008 and offered in Edgewood Commons, a privately operated apartment-style complex on campus. Administrators are considering expanding gender-neutral options.
Goucher College: Started in 2007; about 40 students currently participating. Applies to both dorm rooms and suites.
Johns Hopkins University: Students can apply for the program for the fall semester. It is not limited to any one building, but only applies to suites and apartments.
Maryland Institute College of Art: Started around 2001, not available to freshmen except in special circumstances. Students are assigned by lottery after they apply. Applies to apartment-style living only, not individual rooms.
St. Mary's College of Maryland: Announced in September that it would add gender-neutral housing and that it would be open to new and returning students.
Towson University: Program began in fall 2012 and about 40 students currently participate. Students must apply with a roommate in mind and be selected. They can live in any of three buildings, Barton, Newell and Millennial, and the arrangements are not specific to any wing or floor.
University of Maryland, Baltimore County: Pilot program launched in 2007; currently about 70 students participating. Opened program to freshmen in 2012.
University of Maryland, College Park: Launched pilot program in 2007; program has expanded over the years to about 400 students currently participating. Not limited to certain residence halls.