Last semester I lived off campus. This was not my choice: I originally wanted to go abroad during that time, but after some complications I stayed at Yale. Unfortunately, I made this decision after housing draw, so despite the efforts of my dean, I was unable to secure on-campus housing. One suite in my residential college had two vacant rooms at the time. Its other inhabitants were friends of mine who would have welcomed me as a suitemate. But, as they were girls, and as I am male, I was not allowed to live with them.
In the debate about gender-neutral housing, housing efficiency is often overlooked. Why shunt someone away to off-campus living when he is willing to pay Yale for a dorm? Filling every room makes economic sense.
This does not mean, of course, that in my utopia all leftover people after housing draw would be forced to live with people of the other gender; no suite should be mixed-gender unless all parties consent. Gender-neutral housing would simply give people an option they now lack. To people who worry about being forced into uncomfortable living situations: Think about some of your peers who right now feel uncomfortable living with people of the same gender. Under the current policy, they are forced into the very circumstance that you fear: living with a certain gender when one would rather not.
Many people fear the term “gender neutral.” Some associate this term with radical, sweeping transformation; the administration does this in its recent announcement that Yale is not ready for “system-wide change.” Yale officers demand a look at peer institutions and their success with gender-neutral housing. (Since they still lack this information, I can’t help but wonder what research they have actually done in the past year). I cannot define success, but I can point to the fact that no other Ivy League school with gender-neutral housing has terminated its program.
I can also note that last spring at the University of Pennsylvania, only 82 of over 5,500 on-campus residents participated in gender-neutral housing. Perhaps the change at Yale will not be as sweeping as some fear. Despite the complications inherent to our residential college system, the percentage of students who will request to live with another gender is likely low.
Again, gender-neutral housing would only affect a minority of students who would prefer to live with students of the other gender. Though LGBTQ students certainly have the most urgent reasons for this housing arrangement, others would also benefit.
I have several female friends who complain about their suitemates and claim they would prefer male roommates. I know many more girls, though, who would rather stay with their own gender. Both of these groups could be satisfied under a new system, as the housing process would remain largely similar. Many hall bathrooms at Yale are already co-ed, so this decision would simply expand that shared area — only in specific instances, of course — to include common rooms. Students would choose their own suites, as they do now, and leftover people would be asked their gender preferences for housing. Most of these people would probably want to live with people of the same gender, though they would be accommodated if they did not.
To this end, the University has many logistical possibilities in implementing gender-neutral housing. There are 12 residential college deans, so there would be a great deal of administrative oversight, and deans could discourage rooming arrangements they deem unpromising. While many of my peers and I might oppose case-by-case regulation, it allows for a temporary compromise while Yale dips its toe into the turbulent, untried waters of gender neutrality. Compromise, after all, will ultimately expedite this housing decision.
While administrators have formed committees to do just that, one becomes skeptical when deliberations occur behind closed doors and when a mere handful of students are invited to join this decision-making process. The YCC has had a great deal of transparency in its discussions, including its housing resolution from last year and its open meetings, but there seems to be a disconnect between administrators and undergraduates. Why not hold a public forum to solicit student opinion on this issue? This would involve us, foster our trust in faculty, and allow everyone to learn from constructive dialogue. Even students could learn from one another, as I am sure that not every student agrees on this matter.
I have not tried to summarize all the reasons for gender-neutral housing in a single column, but I assume that my enthusiastic classmates will help me out on that front. A Facebook group was formed Monday night to advocate gender-neutral housing, and within one day over 600 joined. I ask the administration to address these voices in the upcoming months. If this policy changes, little will change practically, but many students will be grateful.
David Weinstein is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.