Yale’s current gender-segregated rooming scheme discriminates against homosexual members of the student body in a way that is more profound than at first appears. The scheme’s effects are not particularly pernicious in practice. But its fundamental motivation should offend social liberals everywhere as much as Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of state anti-sodomy laws.
Advocates of cohabitation have argued that the current rooming policy discriminates against homosexual students because unlike their heterosexual peers, they are not free to live in an environment free from sexual tension. While this is a valid and significant point, there is a deeper one that so far seems to have gone largely unrecognized by campus commentators.
Yale regulates certain aspects of our daily life in loco parentis. Our parents, it is assumed, generally need to be convinced before permitting us to live with our significant others or potential sexual partners. Therefore, Yale, accommodating for what is thought to be our parents’ wishes, denies its students the possibility of sharing a suite with members of the opposite sex.
What’s wrong here? The leap of logic, the sleight of hand, is the implicit assumption that any student’s potential partners belong to the opposite gender. In other words, Yale’s current rooming policy is made based on the assumption that there is no such thing as a homosexual (or bisexual, for that matter). Gays, lesbians and bisexuals do not exist. They are make-believes, fairy tales, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the constitutionality of the USA Patriot Act. Or, at a minimum, it is inconceivable that any such decadent elements can possibly be attending this venerable institution of liberal learning.
That an institution as esteemed as Yale is pursuing such a policy adds frost to snow. To have one’s existence denied is surely as much an insult as anything. To have it done by a university that prides itself in producing leaders, especially civil and political leaders, a university that is meant to be at the forefront of American and world opinion and thought, is an affront to anyone who cares about civil liberties.
But surely the administration does not actually believe that everyone on campus is heterosexual. Yes, if one of us stopped Dean Brodhead in the morning on his way to the office and asked him whether there are gay, lesbian or bisexual students at Yale, I’m sure he would answer in the affirmative. But that’s precisely the point: Just like anti-sodomy legislations adopted back in the 19th century, gender-segregated rooming should be abolished because it is a relic of a previous era.
William Han is a junior in Branford College. He is secretary of the Yale chapter of the ACLU.