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.