Yale administrators missed an opportunity to improve housing options when they tabled this week a proposal to allow gender-neutral housing. We hope the policy will be ultimately accepted later this year or next, and in place for the 2010-’11 school year.
Students have already voiced their support: 76 percent of respondents to a News poll last week said they hoped to see gender-neutral housing, and 60 percent said they would consider living in a gender-neutral suite. Those interested will value the new option, and those who eventually take advantage of it will find benefit in its application.
More passionate arguments have been made by and on behalf of a subset of the Yale community: LGBTQ students, for whom gender-neutral housing is more than a passing interest.
Some lesbian and gay students have advanced gender-neutral housing as a means to end currently unavoidable living situations that cause discomfort. And some students have argued on behalf of transgendered peers, who may find automatic assignments to living with students of one gender unfair and problematic. (No current undergraduates, it should be noted, are openly transgendered.)
Those worried about the implications of gender-neutral housing should remember that many of Yale’s residential spaces are already gender-neutral — including, in most colleges, bathrooms. Of course, many of the Yalies who live off-campus also live with people of both genders, largely without conflict. And the examples of Yale’s peer schools are important to recognize, too. None of the five Ivy League schools that have adopted gender-neutral housing have reverted to earlier housing policies.
So we support an option, implemented as simply as by checking one of two boxes — same-gender or gender-neutral — on housing forms, to allow students to live on campus with students of either gender. It is important to allow students the option to remain in single-gender suites, and similarly important to allow those who need it the option to live in gender-neutral suites.
At Yale, where the residential colleges present unique challenges to all housing issues, we must suggest a limitation on gender-neutral housing. Though it may distress strong supporters of the policy, we propose limiting the widespread availability of gender-neutral housing to juniors and seniors because of the practical realities of Yale’s residential options.
The nature of freshman and sophomore housing, on campus and in specially designated suites (for many, in relatively small buildings on Old Campus), means that allowing all students the option to live in gender-neutral suites may make successful room assignments within colleges impossible. Recognizing the importance of allowing certain students to live in gender-neutral spaces, we believe residential college deans and masters should allow gender-neutral housing to freshmen and sophomores on a individual basis, limiting it to those who strongly feel they need it.
Gender-neutral housing should come to Yale — or, really, to residential college suites, since it is already here in other contexts. It should not, and need not, make any student uncomfortable, as some are today. Nor need it negatively affect the residential colleges if implemented properly.