Yale students intent on living with members of a different gender will have to look to off-campus accommodations for at least another year.
A proposal that would allow gender-neutral housing options for Yale College juniors and seniors will not be available for the 2009-’10 housing cycle, Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Council of Masters Chairman Judith Krauss announced in a statement Monday. University administrators need further time to study implementation issues surrounding a potential gender-neutral housing program, Miller said, and to study similar programs at peer schools. To that end, a task force will be formed to further explore the proposal.
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Senior University administrators requested in Miller’s announcement Monday that the new task force gather information on the track record of similar policies at peer institutions before re-evaluating whether to offer gender-neutral housing at Yale.
“We know what the policies are at other schools, but the groups working on this had not produced a report to describe what the effects had been,” University President Richard Levin said. “What we were proposing is much more sweeping than at other schools.”
The postponed proposal, which would have afforded juniors and seniors the opportunity to live with students of any gender, was recommended by an ad-hoc committee of University administrators before gaining the support of the Council of Masters two weeks ago.
The tabling of this policy marks the continuation of a long debate over the merits of instituting a gender-neutral policy at Yale.
Although the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Cooperative at Yale has been advocating for a gender-neutral policy at Yale for over three years, student advocacy for gender-neutral housing began in earnest in December 2007, when a Yale College Council internal committee was formed to examine the issue.
In Jan. 2008 the YCC voted 22-2 to support that committee’s recommendation that gender-neutral housing be implemented at Yale. The YCC submitted this resolution to the Yale College Dean’s Office, which shortly thereafter formed its own committee to investigate the issue.
YCC President Rich Tao ’10 said he contacted three senior University administrators Monday to ask that students be represented on the new task force. The YCC will also continue working on the issue through an ad-hoc project group, Tao said.
“We’re going to look at finding out how we can help the administration elucidate the evidence,” he said.
Gender-neutral housing could be especially challenging at Yale given the residential college system, said Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, who sat on the ad-hoc committee the University commissioned to study the issue in Jan. 2008. The University does not want to label one college or one entryway as gender-neutral, Gentry said, out of fear that this would unnecessarily isolate transgender students at Yale. To avoid this, he said, any change would have to apply to all of Yale College. Most of the other institutions that have adopted mixed-gender housing do not offer it to the extent that Yale would, Miller said.
“We’re really going to drill down into what the local experiences are,” Miller said in an interview Monday. “The opportunity to look at the track record [of mixed-gender housing] is something that we’ll be exploring in the task force.”
Harvard instituted a policy in 2007 that allows transgender students to apply for gender-neutral housing on a case-by-case basis. Stanford University established a pilot program in 2008, allowing upperclassmen in one of four residences to apply for gender-neutral housing. Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania both offer some form of gender-neutral housing, while Princeton University does not offer any such options.
Miller said gender-neutral housing could also create logistical problems for juniors in particular, and that the task force must look at these issues.
“What would the practicalities be within the very tight housing constraints of the junior year?” she asked. “Juniors are often forced to reconfigure as it is.”
She said groups of juniors are often forced to combine, given the sizes of the suites available to them when they draw for rooms. If gender-neutral housing were to be approved, she said, there might be pressure for students to participate in a co-educational housing group that they might not find appropriate.
And Miller said the task force must look more closely at the actual needs of transgender students and try to identify other possible ways to accommodate them.
Rachel Schiff ’10, Yale’s LGBT Co-op co-coordinator, said she understands that there are logistical issues with implementation but that the University’s justification for the delay — the need to study implementation at peer institutions — demonstrates that queer student issues are a low priority for the administration.
“It’s [a study] that could have easily been done in time for this decision. But it wasn’t,” Schiff said. “That’s infuriating.”
A policy that would allow juniors and seniors to room with members of any gender garnered widespread approval in a News poll conducted last week. That poll found that 76 percent of students supported such a measure; 60 percent of respondents said they would consider living in a gender-neutral suite.
“This is an issue that transcends gender and sexuality,” said Katrina Landeta ’10, who chaired the YCC’s original committee on gender-neutral housing. “It is unfortunate that it has brought a lot of communities together in support of it and yet we’re still continuing to fight.”
The newly formed task force will be headed by Gentry and Associate Dean for Physical Resources and Planning John Meeske ’74, who chaired the original committee.
Meeske said he is not sure whether the idea of gender-neutral housing has won over all senior University administrators. But the new task force will not be charged with persuasion, only with fact-finding, he said.
“I’m not sure that everyone’s on board with them, but the ideas are out there so they know what the recommendations are,” Meeske said. “We don’t really need recommendations. What we need are facts.”