Gender neutral housing unlikely for juniors

Of 24 students living in gender-neutral suites that the News surveyed, 23 described their experience as “positive.”
Of 24 students living in gender-neutral suites that the News surveyed, 23 described their experience as “positive.” Photo by Joy Chen.

Administrators will likely opt not to extend the mixed-gender housing option to juniors next year, University President Richard Levin said Wednesday night.

Seniors, who had the option of living in gender-neutral suites for the first time this year, will still be able to make housing configurations with people of the opposite sex in the 2011-’12 academic year. Though administrators discussed the possibility of allowing juniors to live in mixed-gender suites next year, some are hesitant to include another class in the program after testing it for less than a year.

“I think it’s unlikely anything will happen this year,” Levin said. “I think we want to run the experiment a little longer before we expand the opportunity.”

Undergraduates have fought for mixed-gender options since 2003, and Yale College Council President Jeff Gordon ’12 will meet with Levin Tuesday to discuss making the option available to juniors next year. The YCC interviewed 24 of the 37 students who live in mixed suites to gauge their experiences. Twenty-three characterized their living arrangements as positive, and all 24 said they think juniors should also be allowed to live with opposite-sex friends.

“Particularly because it has worked out so smoothly, we want to give people the opportunity to expand the pool of who they can live with and enjoy as roommates,” Gordon said, adding that he sent the results of the survey to administrators.

The final decision will come from Levin and the other officers of the University, and will be released within the month, as housing lotteries begin in March.

FREE TO CHOOSE

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, who works closely with the YCC, said he has always supported having mixed-gender housing for juniors, adding that juniors who want to live with friends of the opposite sex should not have to move off-campus to do so.

“I have always had the position that it should be for juniors and seniors so it would mimic our off-campus housing,” he said. “One of the arguments for mixed-gender housing was to bring students back to campus.”

Still, Gentry said, the issue is complicated, and he understands why many of his colleagues want to take their time with the decision.

Gordon said he has heard that some administrators, including certain residential college masters and deans, are apprehensive about expanding the program because they want more time to evaluate its effect on student life. He said he has not found anyone who is definitively against the idea.

“People sometimes refer to the unknown third parties who are more apprehensive about it, but I have yet to have a conversation with an administrator who personally oppose this,” he said. “We have not heard a compelling reason against it either philosophically or logistically.”

Yale was the last Ivy League school to introduce a gender-neutral housing option, shortly after Princeton announced last October that it would introduce a program.

Gordon added that even if the program does eventually grow to include juniors, he does not think it will drastically change the housing landscape on campus. For example, when the University opened the gender-neutral option this year, administrators stipulated that students who are romantically involved should not live together. Gordon said the students in mixed suites whom he interviewed were living with close friends, not people with whom they were romantically involved.

“Yale kids are smart enough to make a good decision when it comes to picking who to live with,” said Hayley Carpenter ’11, who lives in a mixed-gender triple in Calhoun. “If homosexual people are mature enough to decide not to live with their partners, straight people should be just as mature.”

No student would ever be forced into a mixed-gender suite, administrators said.

Seven students interviewed who currently live in mixed-gender suites said the freedom associated with gender-neutral housing would make on-campus housing more desirable for all upperclassmen.

“[When selecting suitemates], you’re already confined to a 12th of Yale in your college, and then to a quarter of that within your year,” said Jared Wigdor ’11, who lives in a mixed quad in Jonathan Edwards. “To halve that number only allowing single-gender housing just seems like an unnecessary restriction.”

JUST FRIENDS

Kelly Cannon ’11, who lives with Wigdor as well as another man and woman, said she just wanted to live with her friends, and her decision “didn’t really have anything to do with living in a gender-neutral suite.”

Cassandra Kildow ’11, who lives in a mixed-gender sextet in Berkeley, said she has been close friends with her current suitemates since she was a freshman. One of her suitemates, Cooper Wilhelm ’11, said one of his friends had even contemplated switching his gender on Student Information Systems in the past in order to live with members of the opposite sex.

“The reality is that people do make mixed friend groups,” Kildow said. “We’ve shared bathrooms with guys in the past, so sharing a common room isn’t that different.”

None of the seven students interviewed said they noticed major differences in living with members of the opposite sex. Kayla Matheus ’11, who lives in a mixed-gender double in Swing Space, said personal dynamics and compatibility are not determined by gender.

Wigdor said he only noticed one difference in living in a gender-neutral suite as opposed to one composed of males.

“The suite activities we do are a less gender-centric,” he said. “I play a lot less video games now.”

Since it is already relatively far into the semester, Gordon said it might be too late to expand gender-neutral housing for next year. He added that the YCC tried to get started on discussions about the program early in the year, but things have not gone as fast as he hoped.

“It seems like a no-brainer to improve the quality of student life and make all options available to students to let them choose who they want to spend their time at Yale with,” he said.

Gordon said his upcoming meeting with Levin will be his first meeting with the president this year.

Comments

  • tonykez

    Yale already has “mixed gender housing” policy. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals share rooms with opposite sex! What is the difference; think about it!

  • River Tam

    Housing is a social construct.

  • 11

    There’s no reason for the administration to drag its feet on this. Extending mixed sex housing to juniors would be very easy. Extending it to sophomores might require some thinking through, but there are no additional complications in letting juniors have mixed sex suites (given that annexing happens anyway at the end of the junior housing process).

  • Branford73

    Can someone explain to me how the administration is involved in the non-freshman room draw process, either at the residential college or Yale College level? Aren’t the room draws run by student committees, which surely must not care? How does the administration know that any sophomore or junior group is mixed gender?

    On the other hand, why is official approval even needed? Enter the draws as single genders and agree to switch. Who on earth would care except maybe helicopter parents, whose kids know they couldn’t really get away with it and would therefore not try anyway?

  • Hounie13

    @Branford 73: The housing process is set up the College’s Dean, with help from student representatives. The housing process, however, must still adhere to University policies, which still dictate that students of opposite sex cannot live in the same suite.

    The amount of coordination it would take to set up the switch you describe is ridiculous, especially compared to the amount of effort (i.e. none) needed from the administration to just make gender neutral housing happen. There is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be possible. Furthermore, I don’t think the amount of trouble one would get in if caught is worth it.

  • roganjosh

    @Branford73, there are people who fear you doing what they routinely imagine you doing, and they fear you doing what they did – and perhaps still do.

  • Branford73

    rogan, your response is poetic but I have no idea what you mean.

    Hounie, I agree there is no reason not to allow it, as a matter of student freedom, since there is nothing coercive about it for non-freshmen. If the university wants to express its disapproval, fine, as long as no disciplinary action would be taken. It’s hard to imagine what the discipline would be. It would be interesting to know what an administrator might say about that. (Yeah, good luck YDN getting someone to say it on the record.) Maybe if everyone agreed the change would not be nationally newsworthy event Mother Yale could let it happen.

    My friends and I *did* it in 72-73. It was remarkably easy and we were ready to reverse it if anyone complained. M1, M2 and I put our names in as a triple and selected in our turn, and F1 put her name in for the singles draw. M2 took her single and she moved in with M1 and me (no romantic involvement among us). We were all good enough friends that had anyone raised significant objections, M2 would have stayed in the triple. F1 took one of the two bedrooms, and we build a free-standing divider and loft in the living room for the third bedroom. Very little mail (snail only in those days) came to the rooms but we could make the exchanges with ease anyway. The only confusion was when profs called the room on our land line phone for F1 and got one of us guys. I assume with cell phones now no one has a land line phone installed in their rooms anymore.