Sloan: What’s there to be afraid of?

The recent rejection of the gender-neutral housing proposal has caused me to think a lot about something we’ve all been aware of for a long time: Yalies are having sex.

Some of them are having a lot, some of them aren’t, and a lot of those who aren’t wish they were. It happens in singles. It happens in doubles, often to the chagrin of a sexiled roommate. Sometimes, as we discovered a few years ago, it happens in showers. I wouldn’t be surprised if most Yalie sex occurs on campus, specifically, in the residential colleges. Given that this is the case, what are the opponents of gender-neutral housing so afraid of?

For the most part, Yale seems to accept the fact that college students engage in sexual activity. Students have numerous resources, from freshman counselors to peer health educators, dedicated to helping Yalies have better, safer sex. There are free condoms in all freshman entryways and most residential college basements. Mental Health and Counseling even offers sex therapy, and one can procure subsidized emergency contraception through YUHS.

Apart from making sure Yalies are safe and protected and have access to sexual health care, Yale does little to regulate the amount or kind of sex Yalies have. Although those who live on campus live only a few steps away from their dean and master, there is no one, security guard or otherwise, who keeps vigil at the entryways, ensures that those entering actually live there, or approves or disapproves residents’ guests.

If a female Yalie wants to visit the room of a male acquaintance, nothing stops her. If she lives in the same college as her friend, she already has access to his entryway. If not, passersby will often let people into entryways to which they do not have access. I can visit my male friends and they can visit me at any time of the day or night, and we can stay as long as we want. This reality enables couples to essentially move in with each other, a practice that, though it is perhaps unwise, is fairly common.

The unavoidable reality of the situation is that our residential colleges are already gender-neutral spaces. The people who live in the rooms are the ones who determine who they will or will not let into their living space, not the master, the dean or other officials of the University. Men and women find ways to shower comfortably in the same bathroom, even if the men in question are tall enough to see over the barriers between showers.

There are undeniable dangers to this freedom, but ultimately it speaks to the trust the University confers on its students. Yale trusts us to make safe choices without constantly policing us or making sure that what we choose to do in our rooms with friends of the opposite sex is something of which the University trustees or our parents will approve. The University recognizes our capacity for reason — a faculty with which all Yalies are endowed — and provides excellent resources for dealing with the mistakes of all kinds that Yalies occasionally make.

Moreover, residential colleges aren’t just dorms; they’re communities. The freedom we have is the result of the simple fact that restricting who we can see, visit and talk to restricts our sense of community, our ability to form meaningful relationships, and, ultimately, to celebrate those relationships once they’re formed. This sense of community is what the residential colleges were established to foster, and they do so successfully, in a system that is emulated by colleges and universities all across the country.

The lack of gender-neutral housing flies in the face of this long-celebrated ideal of trust and community-building. It sends a message to Yale students that while we are considered mature enough to learn to deal with sharing bathrooms with people we don’t know very well, we are not mature enough to make good choices about with whom we should live. If a group of women is close with a group of men, why not let them live together? It’s not about sex — Yalies’ sex lives are in no way impeded by the housing system as it stands. It’s about friendship, about developing and deepening those relationships that make the Yale experience so unique and so coveted.

Allowing students of different genders to live together would not be a sign of lower moral standards. The University already places the brunt of the burden of morality on the students’ conscience — as it should, given that college-age people are legally recognized as adults in the United States. Rather, this privilege would be a further signal of trust and devotion to community, and a sign of Yale’s continued respect for its students.

Emma Sloan is a junior in Branford College.


  • Hiero II

    Gender neutral housing as Yale policy labels those who prefer single-sex housing as bigoted or backwards.

    Also, are we going to make it a choice or mandatory? (ie: will it apply to freshmen and those without roommates?)

    If it's the former, we admit there are very real cultural and societal reasons for segregation. If it's the latter, we place hundreds of Yalies into deeply uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations.

    Sorry, Emma. I don't think you've really thought this one through.

  • Sophia Shapiro

    1) good article, I'm thankful for your support

    2) To reply to above: as the university has said frequently, nobody will ever be forced to live with someone of another gender. The option of same-sex housing will always remain, and freshmen will not be randomly assigned gender neutral suites.

    3) The one problem I have with this article is that it ignores LGBT people, many of whom already share suites with people to whom they could be potentially attracted, most often without disastrous results. And it ignores the fact that although many straight people would benefit from gender neutral housing, the lack of a policy is actively harming many LGBT student who feel uncomfortable in their current living situations.

  • Jessica

    Well-written! As an undergrad here at Yale, I agree wholeheartedly with your point about sex on campus - if we chose to have it, there's nothing really stopping us at this point. And when it comes to gender neutral housing, students here are unlikely to take the choice as lightly as many of the recent articles presume. The housing process will still be full of difficult decisions - it's just that there will be one more option to consider. Kudos.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree with Emma on this one. Making gender-neutral housing an option won't affect the lives of those who prefer to live in single-gender suites in any material way, but it would make a huge difference to those who desire it.

    I imagine freshmen would still be placed in single-gender rooms, since they aren't making any choices about housing to begin with, but for the rest of us, it changes the selection of suitemates into a choice about the people you're most comfortable living with rather than a search for the people you like best who happen to have the same genitalia as you.

  • Todd Ferguson

    Hiero, it is not Emma that hasn't thought this through. Your two points miss the mark. Let's look at them:

    1) You say gender neutral housing labels people who prefer single-sex housing as "bigoted or backwards." This is false. It's not bigoted to prefer one type of housing for yourself; it IS bigoted to foist this personal preference on the entire student body. From your argument it would logically follow that supporters of same-sex marriage must label all heterosexuals (rather than just those who oppose same-sex marriage) as "backwards." The point is to allow students to make their own choices about these things, and not to force one option on students simply because it's more prevalent.

    2) Fine point about freshmen housing, but it's not particularly important to the debate. Freshmen should continue to be placed in housing as they already are. But it does not follow that they shouldn't be able to choose with whom they want to live once they've spent a year at Yale.