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.

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