In at least one respect, a year at Yale can easily be compared to an episode of the now defunct, yet nostalgically treasured, animated classic “Pinky and the Brain.” One parallel between the two becomes obvious at this point in the year: just as the rodent duo withstands blunder after blunder in their quest to take over the world, some Yale students persist every year in their quest to institutionalize co-ed housing.
“[Co-ed housing] is a topic that has come up every year,” Calhoun Housing Committee Chair Luke Rona ’04 said. “There’s a reason it comes up every year — because people think it’s a legitimate complaint.”
This year, the issue has surfaced in the form of a housing controversy in Branford College. According to Branford Housing Director Jennifer Catena ’05, the problem involves the college’s party suite, the God Quad. The Quad can of course be allocated as a quadruplet, but since Branford’s renovation in 1999, two stand-alone singles have been attached to the Quad via a fire-door hallway, allowing potential inhabitants to choose between applying as a group of four or as a group of six.
Catena says that since its renovation, the God Quad “has always been a group of six guys, but just coincidentally.” Four male students, however, are attempting to change that by pushing to include two girls in the God Quad, stipulating that they would be placed in the stand-alone singles. Catena and Branford Dean Thomas McDow decided that this would violate Yale College rules but that the two females could enter into the room draw in the hopes that they would be able to select the singles anyway.
Representing the group, Kyle Hilgendorf ’05 said it is important to note that they were not seeking to overturn any Yale College rule.
“We’re not personally standing for cohabitation — we’re trying to make a suite of four men with two women clipped,” Hilgendorf said.
Hilgendorf said his suite has been circulating a petition pushing to revoke a Branford rule that prevents them from clipping with their female friends. Catena said that no rules would be changed and that it would not be possible to make an exception for them because clipping with more than two suites across different entryways is not permissible.
The situation has yet to be resolved, as the Branford housing draw will take place next Monday, April 12.
Although the God Quad case confronts technicalities of the Branford housing system more than cohabitation, it returns to the issue that the God Quad four hoped to avoid. If two women can enter the room draw and end up in singles that have been associated with the Quad before, isn’t it basically cohabitation? Why bother forcing them to pursue that arrangement in such a roundabout way? The God Quad case makes it apparent that cohabitation does exist at Yale in some form, yet formally acknowledging it has been all but impossible.
“We wanted — [cohabitation] to not just be something that was under the radar,” Andrew Allison ’04 said.
Allison served as YCC president last year and spearheaded a campaign to institute co-ed housing.
Last year, Allison collaborated with Cyd Cipolla ’04 to form the Alliance for Sensible College Housing at Yale (ASCHY). Their mission was to achieve a cohabitation policy that would “respect individuals [and] encourage a comfortable living environment.” According to Allison, the group collected over 2,000 signatures expressing student support within a two-day period and approached administrators, including Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, to discuss implementing such a plan.
Allison also said the lack of co-ed housing may also serve to pressure students who feel most comfortable among members of the opposite sex to move off-campus. In particular, his group included a line in their mission statement that said, “The current policy discriminates against lesbian, gay and bisexual students” through heteronormative assumptions about sexual relationships.
Yet some expressed concern using that as the focal point of ASCHY’s approach. Hilgendorf went so far as to suggest that it might have been the downfall of the entire movement.
“[Cohabitation] was basically pushed for homosexual persons, and as large of a community as we have here, it’s clearly not the majority,” he said. “I feel as though in order to [achieve co-ed housing], you can’t just have one, small interest group pushing for something.”
Calhoun Master William Sledge, who serves as the chair of the Council of Masters, suggested that he and his colleagues did not completely understand the claim at the time.
“This was the first time this particular complaint and been made, and we were not sure how to evaluate it,” he said. “We did not know if this was a deeply felt concern — or more of a rationalization to influence our decision.”
Cipolla disputed Hilgendorf’s claim that the cohabitation movement was focused exclusively on gays but did insist that articulating that point was essential.
“People hadn’t thought of it before. It wasn’t that we were taking one point over another, but we were trying to attack it from both sides,” Cipolla said. “[And] how do you attack it from the point of the mainstream Yale community? You cannot engage in a discussion about co-ed housing without bringing up the fact that not all men and women are straight.”
Many agree that much of the resistance to cohabitation stems largely from the generational gap between the administration and students. Rona speculated that parents are an additional reason that co-ed housing has failed at Yale — because of “whatever naively innocent view of their child they have.”
But Sledge said that single-sex suites are simply the most pragmatic means of resolving the multifaceted problems of housing arrangements.
Despite the misunderstandings, almost all parties, including Sledge, agree that co-ed housing is an inevitability at Yale. They suggest that much work needs to be done to fine-tune the proposal and work out the kinks of how this would be implemented.
“We need a clear idea of what to do when [cohabitation] doesn’t work out and whether or not it would be a romantic undertaking. [There also needs to be] a clear idea of how students feel about it,” Sledge said.
Cipolla insisted that the time had been ripe for co-ed housing but that events such as the labor union strike prevented complete follow-through with the plan. She expressed regret that certain strategies were not executed last year, such as approaching the Master’s Office of each residential college individually to address concerns specific to each proprietary housing system.
“[Yale College regulations state that] there must be a locked door between a man and woman, and different colleges have followed that in different ways,” she said.
Allison suggested that although cohabitation did not come to fruition last year, students can get closer to institutionalizing co-ed housing with a bit of effort.
“It’s not an antagonistic thing; it’s something that the students and administration can work on together cooperatively,” he said. “It may not happen in a few months or even a few years. But it’ll happen even sooner if students work toward it.”
Those who do live in de facto, co-ed housing arrangements, however, say that it really is no big deal.
Fredo Silva ’04, who lives off-campus with a female friend of his, said that there are only a few differences compared to living with another male.
“We probably have more tasteful furniture, and the bathroom’s cleaner — but the rest of it is the same,” he said. “We still have beer everywhere.”
Tom Weigandt ’07, whose girlfriend happened to select a suite linked to his for next year, also broke the issue down quite simply.
“I think that the important thing with co-ed housing is being comfortable with everyone else — espec
ially in your underwear,” he said.
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