As part of Trans Awareness week, a group of panelists said Sunday that they support gender-neutral housing at Yale, but acknowledged the potential obstacles to its implementation.
Speaking to an audience of about 25, the panelists said the administration must overcome logistical hurdles before the proposal can be approved, including the residential college system. Planned by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Co-operative to be an update and dialogue on gender-neutral housing, the panel featured Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske; Maria Trumpler, a lecturer in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources; and Sophia Shapiro ’11, a student representative from the gender-neutral housing advocacy group Students for Housing Equality at Yale. Students at the panel said they were concerned by what they perceived as the administration’s lack of urgency, but said they think the administration is working toward a solution.
“The students are hungering for a dialogue with the administration, and are seeing the lack of communication as the beginnings of a fight, which is not what it needs to be,” Shapiro said. “This is a beautiful expression of good faith between the administration and the student body.”
After a committee of administrators recommended last March that Yale adopt gender-neutral housing, the officers of the University postponed a final decision. Meeske and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry are currently gathering data on a possible solution, and administrators said they will make a decision by the spring.
Throughout the discussion, the panelists largely agreed with one another, saying that gender-neutral housing is a priority for them.
“A lot of students see the failure to implement gender-neutral housing as entrenched homophobia or heterosexism in the administration, which I don’t think is necessarily fair,” Shapiro said. “We’re all on the same side.”
Meeske and Trumpler said there are logistical challenges to implementing gender-neutral housing in Yale’s residential college system, which makes it impossible to borrow from other schools. At Harvard University, gender-neutral housing is determined by application on a case-by-case basis, which Trumpler said requires students to disclose too much personal information. Princeton University and Brown University have specific dormitories where gender-neutral suites are allowed.
But Yale, Trumpler said, must figure out how to implement mixed-gender rooms across all 12 residential colleges.
She said even outside of benefiting the LGBT community, gender-neutral could improve gender dynamics at Yale by providing the option of living with the opposite sex.
“You get to know each other on a day to day basis,” Trumpler said, “which would enhance respect of some women for some men and some men for some women.”
Still, during the question-and-answer period following the talk, students asked where in the process the proposal had been halted.
Meeske said when the Council of Masters rubber-stamped the recommendation, he had expected the rest of the approval process to be “smooth sailing.”
“I literally do not know where it ran into problems,” Meeske said. “I do not know if it was one person or many people who posed objections to it.”
Students said they appreciated the discussion and the opportunity to talk about their concerns regarding gender-neutral housing.
Alejandro Bustillos ’11 said he thinks the administration is focusing too much on a perfect solution which may take too long to find.
“We need to start doing something,” he said. “I feel bad voicing my opinions to these people, because they’re the one’s helping us. It’s the people who aren’t that I need to speak to.”
Near the end of the panel, one student asked if gender-neutral housing is inevitable. The panelists glanced at each other, but it was Trumpler who responded.
“It does seem fairly imminent, but I cross my fingers about the inevitable,” she said.
The panel was part of Trans Awareness Week, coordinated by a group of students who work with the Women’s Center, the LGBT Co-op, the Afro-American Cultural Center and other organizations. In its sixth year, the week will focus on how gender issues intersect with race and religion.
“The point is to question what you know about gender, and to provide a space where we celebrate gender diversity,” Seth Weintraub ‘11, co-coordinator of the week, explained.
Princeton University announced two weeks ago that it would offer a gender-neutral housing option, effective fall 2010. Yale is now the only Ivy League school without such a policy.