KOUL: Little need for neutral housing

What is the problem with a gender-neutral housing option? As the YCC Proposal for Expansion of Gender-Neutral Housing bends over backward to explain, it appears to be the panacea for all problems. Students will be happier, they’ll be discouraged from living off-campus, homosexuality will be “normalized,” gender-queer, trans and non-straight individuals will have housing options they’ll be much more comfortable with, inter-sex friendships will be fostered and so on. Most importantly, the perennially talked about “sexual climate” of the college will improve, in the long run.

It is interesting to examine the premises that lead the proposal’s writers, Joseph Yagoda and Isabel Santos-Gonzalez, to these conclusions. Gender-based housing completely ignores homosexuality and the many identity issues it brings along.

Moreover, they think that gender-based housing promotes same-gender friendships at the expense of inter-gender friendships, which “can make students feel ostracized.” Gender-neutral housing would be one more step toward “deconstructing gender boundaries” and “decreasing the notion that men and women have morally relevant distinctions between them that merit disparate treatment.”

Of all the YCC’s premises, I do agree with one — I do think gender-queer people can have a tough time if constrained strictly within gender-based housing and they should be given the option to live with friends of any gender or sexual orientation. That said, one must remember that they do not constitute the majority of the student body and an option for them cannot automatically be generalized for the entire student body.

First, Yale’s current gender-based housing system prevents no student from forming close bonds with people of the opposite sex, just like living in a particular residential college prevents nobody from having friends in other colleges. Most of my close friends at Yale are male, all of them live in other colleges and I didn’t have to share a suite with any of them to form those close friendships. There are weeks when I only see the sleeping form of my roommate or say a cursory “hi” to her. Yale has too many things going on for people to build meaningful relationships only in their suites.

A more disturbing idea implicit in the proposal is that gender-based housing implies a disparity in the treatment of men and women. Neither in its rationale nor in its practice does gender-based housing imply that men and women are unequal. On the contrary, it is based on a respect for the distinction between men and women — one that holds strong despite political, social or economic equality. The concept of equality has been used far too often in history to abolish all difference when difference and equality can and do coexist.

You might ask just what the need for this difference is, why Yale must oppress people by demanding that they not live with their friends of the opposite sex. Before I answer that, I must point out that Yale has a duty not only to the well-being of its student body but also to tradition and its own mission. The mission of Yale College is “to seek exceptionally promising students … and to educate them, through mental discipline and social experience, to develop their intellectual, moral, civic, and creative capacities to the fullest.”

Now, gender-based housing institutes no great mental discipline on us; it prevents no two people from hooking up or having sex with each other, nor does it prevent people in relationships from living, de facto, in one suite. We already live on mixed-sex floors. Given the current scenario, there would appear to be little utility in the University demanding this extra bit of adherence when we already have full freedom to flout the essence of this little rule. But there are things beyond utility. As an acknowledgement of the distinction between men and women and a sign of respect for the idea that the union of the two sexes isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be an ordinary, casual and impersonal experience, the University’s policy must still be one of encouraging and maintaining the status quo of gender-based housing.

Gender-queer people should be given the option of gender-neutral housing. Not all of these people would be comfortable identifying themselves as such. But whether it is through the LGBTQ Co-op, masters’ offices or other measures, I have full confidence that a mechanism that is not embarrassing or humiliating for gender-queer people can be figured out, without sacrificing, at the same time, the University’s obligation to its essence and mission.

Radhika Koul is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at radhika.koul@yale.edu.

Comments

  • disneyguy

    Contrary to your supposed adherence to Yale’s mission, this article is actually a contributing factor in the messed-up and homophobic sexual culture at Yale which seeks to obstruct any form of sexual freedom at the University.

    While I agree that the promoters of gender-neutral housing wisely left out the argument that having separate men’s and women’s housing is discriminatory (it would be a tough sell to the Yale Corporation), your attempt to tear it down here is laughable. You write, in the middle of your article, “The concept of equality has been used far too often in history to abolish all difference when difference and equality can and do coexist.” Wonderful of you to cite history in this case. How would the “separate but equal” precedent established by Plessy v. Ferguson have been affected by this logic? Thank goodness we had people like Chief Justice Warren who could see through the brittle frailty of this logic.

    However, just because your experience with your roommates seems to be rather dysfunctional and meaningless doesn’t mean that it is for everyone at Yale. A careful reading of the report would help you to recognize that it doesn’t say “Everyone at Yale is friends with her or his roommates, so gender neutral housing should be implemented to assist that spirit!” The report makes the argument that NO distinction but gender currently prevents Yalies from living together, and the exception for that single basis is archaic, and even damaging.

    It is not with your negative attacks on the arguments made for gender-neutral housing that your article most utterly fails. It is with the single-paragraph of positive argument at the end that you make the most bigoted and illogical argument. The idea that it is the University’s duty to “prevent no two people from hooking up or having sex with each other” and to “prevent people in relationships from living, de facto, in one suite.” This is the homophobia, Ms. Koul. This is the ignorant painting-over of sexual minorities in favor of the heterosexual majority. Even accepting that, since when was it Yale’s duty to prevent dating couples from living together or hooking up?

    • disneyguy

      And, even with that, accepting your argument that relationships with suitemates tends to be meaningless, why then would living one room apart foster hookups? Professor Boyd makes the intelligent argument in her letter in support of gender-neutral housing that sexual aggression is much likelier to occur in “un-risky” environments. Certainly Yale should discourage sexual assault on campus, but gender neutral housing is not going to be an elaborate scheme by which rapists will arrange months-long schemes to assault other Yalies. That is ignorant of the mechanisms by which sexual assault operate. And, on top of that, how do you know the context of most casual sex? Is it okay to hook up with someone after having coffee three times? How and why can and should the University regulate this? I doubt that the answer is in resorting to Victorian and ineffective prohibitions, and that is without questioning Yale’s authority to get involved in the private but consensual sexual practices of its students at all (which is a dangerous endeavor).

      What gender-neutral housing WILL do, and why the YCC rightly argues that it will improve the sexual culture of Yale, is to make the differences in sex and sexual practice seem more acceptable, normal, and approvable. Gay Yalies will feel more comfortable living in an environment which does not presume heterosexuality, progressive straight Yalies will enjoy a living situation which allows them to live among friends and equals, and trans people at Yale will be free NOT to arrange your silly and dubious special arrangements, but instead to refrain from checking “male” or “female” at all when applying for on-campus housing.

      But we still haven’t gotten to the worst line of your piece: “As an acknowledgement of the distinction between men and women and a sign of respect for the idea that the union of the two sexes isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be an ordinary, casual and impersonal experience, the University’s policy must still be one of encouraging and maintaining the status quo of gender-based housing.” Unfortunately for you, respect will not occur between men and women until their relationship CAN be ordinary and casual–sex discrimination cannot be ended until people see one another not as SEXES, but as PEOPLE. Why exactly should it not be the case that equality of treatment and respect will come when judgment based on one’s perceived gender is ended? And how do I, a gay male, fit within this paradigm? Should I treat other men somehow differently because they might, at some point, be my sexual partner?

      This article is damaging and offensive. I hope Yale is better than it.

  • MC13

    Radhika, do you understand the difference between being given the option to do something and being forced to do it? You (and other students with more legitimate, less offensively essentializing reasons to want to live only with others of their gender) would still be welcome and able to live with whomever you like with the addition of gender-neutral housing. This is just a poorly reasoned imposition of your own outdated sense of morality and difference into the lives and decisions of others, which is presumptuous and offensive.

    • lakia

      Morality is never outdated. The lack of it is just a convenient excuse as a means to end. That applies to being gay, straight, or whatever.

  • lakia

    The article was well written and voices an opinion that needs to be heard, but is too often quashed by the liberal rantings of people such as Disneyguy. Just because you are uncomfortable in your own skin and apparently unhappy with your sexual identity, does not mean those around you, who don’t share your opinions on sexuality, view you in the same biased manner in which you view YOURSELF and others. It is YOU who has the narrow view, by default.

  • River_Tam

    See disneyguy’s comments for evidence that the so-called “progressive” movement brooks no opposition in its fight to make everyone conform to its warped world view.

    More fine work from UBYC.

    • Frashizzle

      Like

  • PS_QR

    Seriously Lakia and River_Tam? There are no words. Neither of you has a coherent argument against disneyguy, who quite simply and logically shows how this op-ed is nonsensical and offensive. Depending on ad hominem attacks and an unqualified dismissal is pretty boring. Try again.

    • Frashizzle

      Their arguments aren’t ad hominem. They don’t insult disneyguy outside of the evidence he’s put into this discussion. They are rather a form of kritik; that is, an argument against a form of argument. More specifically, one could claim that the fact that disneyguy makes his arguments in such a way that ignores the possibility of an argument in favor of gender based housing, leads to inherent bias. … which it does. But what do I know… I’m just a K-friendly (Kritik-accepting) debater.

      • penny_lane

        Read Lakia’s comment again and tell me it’s not an ad hom attack. And a rather homophobic one at that.

  • ihaveahammer

    “I have full confidence that a mechanism that is not embarrassing or humiliating for gender-queer [sic] people can be figured out”

    Your confidence is misplaced. Some genderqueer students have figured out appropriate housing solutions in spite of gender segregation. But, in spite of the good will and best efforts of individual administrators, that is frequently impossible. Sure, you can stick someone in a standalone single, but is that fair? What message does it send to the student, and what will it do to their social life?

    And think about it: would you want to go to a school that, administratively, presumes you don’t exist? Yale’s policy of gender segregation factors into queer, trans and genderqueer students’ decisions to not apply or not matriculate. Maintaining some fantasy distinction between male and female space is not worth alienating these kids, who would bring goodness knows what talents and experience to our community.

    I can assure you that both parts of my comment—the unfeasibility of appropriately housing genderqueer (and, sometimes, trans) students in our system, and the alienation of potential applicants—are not just theoretical. These interactions have actually taken place, and will continue to do so until we offer unsegregated housing to all undergraduates. You can’t answer a problem like that with “full confidence”; you have to answer it with concrete solutions. Until you propose some, Radhika, your argument rings hollow.

  • penny_lane

    “…a sign of respect for the idea that the union of the two sexes isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be an ordinary, casual and impersonal experience…”

    My relationships with my suitemates at Yale were some of the most extraordinary, deep and personal I’ve had in my entire life. If Yale wants to foster such relationships between men and women, shouldn’t they, by Ms. Koul’s own argument, allow the option of mixed-gender suites?

    This is a piece of deeply incoherent writing. The YDN should not have published it as it stands.

  • aleksei_fyodorovich

    “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

    Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 495 (1954).

    • xfxjuice

      Residential College rooms are neither educational facilities nor are they in the field of public education. Therefore, this quotation is irrelevant (and not to mention out of context.)

  • The Anti-Yale

    Let me get this.

    So today, fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement, people are lobbying to live in self-selected ghettos?

    PK

  • ldffly

    ” Gender-neutral housing would be one more step toward ‘deconstructing gender boundaries’ and ‘decreasing the notion that men and women have morally relevant distinctions between them that merit disparate treatment.”

    I have just one question. Are those statements considered beyond controversy at Yale today? If they are, let me just state that many on the Yale campus need to study Derrida, Foucault, and Judy Butler far more closely than they have. Their work is questionable. Their conclusions have become part of the stock of common sense only on some campuses.