Gender-neutral housing explored

In response to student demand, an “ad-hoc committee” of administrators is investigating the possibility of gender-neutral housing on campus, Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske said this week.

The committee, which was convened late last semester around the same time the Yale College Council formed a gender-neutral housing committee of its own, will spend the 2008-’09 academic year drafting a recommendation about the housing option, committee chair Meeske said.

Regardless of the group’s findings, he said the University will hold off on implementing any changes next year, even as the University’s Ivy League peers embrace gender-neutral housing options one by one. While Meeske said the committee cannot yet gauge demand for gender-neutral housing, students involved with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at Yale said additional housing options are badly needed — particularly to make the University more welcoming for transgender students.

Meeske said the administration began exploring the issue after attending Ivy League housing conferences over the past two years and discovering that gender-neutral housing was “an ‘in’ thing at other schools.” Still, given the distinctiveness of Yale’s residential college system, all decisions will be made with Yale specifically in mind, he said.

“We do not want to do something just because others are doing it,” Meeske said.

Since last fall, student groups have drafted two separate proposals in favor of gender-neutral housing. In November, the Council of Masters rejected a proposal for a gender-neutral housing option for upperclassmen presented by Edward Chang ’10, queer resources coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale. Then, in January, the YCC’s gender-neutral housing committee presented another proposal favoring gender-neutral housing to the administration, Katrina Landeta ’10 said.

Meeske said before any changes can be made to Yale’s current housing system, the committee — which also includes Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss and Maria Trumpler, Special Assistant to the Deans on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Issues — must collect data assessing student interest, through interviews beginning next week, to determine whether “there is a need” for gender-neutral housing.

“The answer is: We’re not sure,” he said.

But LGBT Co-op student coordinator Benjamin Gonzalez ’09 said Yale’s current housing policy ignores the needs of transgender students. Gonzalez said he knows of no openly transgender students currently at Yale, which he said is the result of the University’s policies — policies that do not promote a comfortable environment for such individuals.

“Yale,” Gonzalez said, “is failing in its basic mission not to discriminate on gender identity and expression.”

While the committee is taking into account the needs of transgender students, Meeske said since they remain a small population at the University — if they have any presence at all — the committee must also consider the needs of the other students who would be affected by a new housing option. This, Meeske said, brings up an important question for the group to consider: “Do we have an obligation to that transgender student, and is that obligation the same that we have for a gay student, or a heterosexual couple who wants to live together?”

Regardless of whether official gender-neutral housing exists, students have always found ways to skirt the current rules, creating mixed-gender accommodations by moving off campus or simply switching rooms with classmates, Gonzalez and other students interviewed said.

Committee members, who also acknowledged these practices, said they do not think that cohabitation among heterosexual couples should result from gender-neutral housing, because it undermines the purpose of the housing option.

“For lesbian and gay students, some prefer to live with people they’re not potentially attracted to,” Trumpler said. “We just want that option to be available if it’s an option that is needed.”

Some form of gender-neutral housing is available at more than 30 colleges and universities nationwide, according to the nonprofit Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, including the majority of the eight Ivy League universities as well as nearby schools like Wesleyan University and the University of Connecticut.

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