Students in the class of 2011 will have the option of living in mixed-gender suites next year as part of a pilot program, Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway said Sunday in an e-mail to the News.
Rising seniors may choose to live in mixed-gender suites but not mixed-gender bedrooms, Miller and Holloway wrote, and no student will be forced to live in a mixed-gender suite. Miller and Holloway discouraged students in romantic relationships from rooming together in this configuration.
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While students who have advocated for gender-neutral housing said they appreciate the move, they said they hope the policy will be extended to sophomores and juniors. But Holloway said he doubted the likelihood of such a wide application.
“I’d be astonished if it were ever opened to sophomores,” Holloway said Sunday night, adding that the program is best-suited to older, more mature seniors.
University President Richard Levin and the Yale Corporation approved the pilot program over the weekend. The Corporation met with administrators and representatives from the Yale College Council to discuss gender-neutral housing options and settled on the seniors-only pilot program after Miller and the YCC presented research done over the last year.
Miller and Holloway said the gender-neutral option will be available to students in the rooming draw set to begin after spring break.
“This new housing policy will be evaluated during its first year; a committee of masters and deans will report to the [Yale College Dean’s Office], Council of Masters, and University Officers in January 2011,” Miller and Holloway wrote.
A proposal that would have allowed a gender-neutral housing option for juniors and seniors in the current academic year was tabled last spring in order to give administrators more time to study the issue, Miller and former Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss announced in March 2009. Miller asked a committee of administrators to conduct further research about the possible implications of a mixed-gender housing policy, and presented this research to the Corporation this weekend. The complexity of the residential college system and consistent space limitations for juniors in housing draws were topics that needed to be addressed, she said.
But these concerns are no longer an issue, Miller said Sunday night, in light of the seniors-only program that applies across all 12 colleges.
“Any reservations I had in the past are completely dissolved by this proposal,” Miller said. She and Holloway added in the e-mail that the decision came after researching similar programs at peer institutions and consulting with residential college masters and deans, as well as student groups.
Yale College Council President Jon Wu ’11 said that while he hopes and believes the administration will consider a more widely inclusive program, he thinks the current iteration is an important first step. Sophia Shapiro ’11, a former Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Cooperative coordinator, said that while making mixed-gender housing available to sophomores, juniors and seniors is still the goal of housing equality advocates, further work on the issue is “out of students’ hands.”
“We made it very clear what we wanted and why it is important,” she said. “At this point, they’re going to need to see that it works this year.”
But not all students agree. Wu said that it will be the responsibility of both the current council and next year’s council to continue advocating for a broader mixed-gender housing program. Rachel Schiff ’10, former LGBT Co-op coordinator, said Yale Students for Housing Equality, of which she is a director, will remain active on the issue until sophomores and juniors have the option of living in mixed-gender suites.
Former YCC president Rich Tao ’10 said he is pleased that students in the YCC, the Co-op and other campus groups were able to affect change within the University and called the policy “a step in the right direction.” Still, the policy is narrow compared to those in place at peer institutions, Tao said.
“There is evidence that a broader policy could apply at Yale,” Tao said. “This is still a relatively conservative policy. We were also behind the times. How nice would it be if instead of being the last university to adopt something like gender-neutral housing, Yale would be the first.”
Yale is in fact the last Ivy League university to implement some form of gender-neutral housing. Many peer institutions implemented policies on smaller scales, designating one floor of a dormitory as gender-neutral, for instance, to accommodate transgender students. Administrators have said that to preserve equality among the residential colleges, a policy that designates certain residence halls as “gender-neutral” would not be possible at Yale.
Schiff said she is “thankful” to the administration.
“I look forward to further implementation to ensure the safety and comfort of all of our campus.”
But Matthew Gerken ’11, the founder of the “I Oppose Gender-Neutral Housing at Yale” Facebook group, said in an e-mail that the new policy would only lead to more marginalization. He added that he is not convinced by administrators’ claims that gender-neutral housing would not be forced on unwilling students.
“Our voluntary decisions do not take place in a vacuum,” Gerken said. “If gender-neutral housing becomes the norm, single-gender housing will become stigmatized and become the choice of fewer and fewer Yalies. Those with moral or religious objections will be marginalized.”
Alejandro Bustillos ’11, coordinator of the LGBT Co-op, said he expects the pilot program — which he said he sees as an expansion of informal gender-neutral housing already in place in freshman counselors’ suites and in hallways with fire doors — to appeal to straight students and LGBT students alike.
“I look at it this way — finally, I can live with some of my best friends, who are of the opposite gender,” Bustillos said.
Correction: Feb. 27, 2010
An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Matthew Gerken ’11.