Housing may go gender-neutral

Administrators are nearing a decision on a gender-neutral housing proposal that could be implemented as soon as next fall.

The Committee on Gender-Neutral Housing will present its recommendations to residential college masters in a meeting today. Although the four members of the committee would not comment on the specifics of the recommendations, two members said a change in the University’s current policy, which prohibits mixed-gender housing, may occur as soon as the upcoming housing cycle. Maria Trumpler, special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ affairs, said she expects the measure to gain support among the Council of Masters and administrators.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said in an interview Thursday night that while she was initially “skeptical” of the idea, her views on the proposal have shifted.

“As I’ve learned more about the success of mixed gender housing at other universities, I have become more open to the idea that it can happen here,” Miller said, adding that her personal feelings are less important than the opinions of the twelve residential college masters.

If any policy change is made, it will apply to all 12 colleges, Trumpler said.

“We want to make sure that whatever option works out works in all of the colleges, not just one or two of the colleges,” Trumpler said. “We also want it to work out equitably.”

Two committee members — chair John Meeske ’74, the associate dean for physical resources and planning, and Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss — said they could not confirm with certainty whether administrators will decide to approve a gender-neutral housing policy. But both said that if the proposal meets with widespread approval among residential college masters and administrators, the changes could be implemented in time for the 2009-’10 academic year.

For her part, Trumpler said she thinks the proposal will be well-received by an increasing number of masters and administrators.

“We’re expecting that a broad base of support will emerge,” Trumpler said in an interview Wednesday.

The Committee on Gender-Neutral Housing was convened in fall 2007 after two Ivy League housing conferences revealed that all but two Ivy League universities, Princeton and Yale, had yet to implement some form of gender-neutral housing. The committee consists of Meeske, Krauss, Trumpler and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry.

The procedure for approving gender-neutral housing is unclear, given that the policy move would be unprecedented at Yale. What is clear, however, is that the support of the residential college masters and University President Richard Levin is necessary for a housing change to be passed, Meeske said.

Krauss agreed, adding that the Council of Master’s verdict will be essential.

“[Masters] are a critical stakeholder,” Krauss said. “People are going to listen to what they have to say.”

But because the housing rules are in the undergraduate regulations, Krauss added, the final approval must come from Yale College Dean Mary Miller.

Yale’s residential college system complicates the implementation of gender-neutral housing. While other universities can designate one dorm or one floor as gender-neutral, Yale’s housing system precludes a similar solution, Trumpler said.

Harvard University’s house system presents similar problems. Harvard implemented a limited form of gender-neutral housing in 2007 on a suite-by-suite basis for those who self-identify as transgender. But some take issue with this case-by-case approval, Trumpler said.

“We would like to avoid that,” Trumpler said. “We think people shouldn’t have to justify their reasons.”

Yoshi Shapiro ’11, co-coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale, agreed that gender-neutral housing is not solely in the interests of transsexual or queer students.

“I think it’s also for gay students and straight students alike,” Shapiro said. “There definitely are male and female friends that would like to live with each other.”

Five students interviewed all said they would support a gender-neutral housing policy at Yale.

“As long as you don’t have to be in gender-neutral housing, that’s all right,” Michelle Wolfe ’11 said.

Emma Sloan ’10 said she strongly supported making Yale’s housing gender-neutral because she believes the idea that men and women are necessarily attracted to the opposite sex is “antiquated.”

Shapiro, at least, is hopeful that this “antiquated” idea is on the way out.

“I think it is going to pass in the next couple years. I think [Yale is] behind the times on this issue,” Shapiro said. “The administration is in a good place right now.”

Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania were the first Ivy League schools to provide gender-neutral housing options in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Harvard and Cornell universities and Dartmouth College followed in 2007.

Raymond Carlson contributed reporting.

Comments