With housing draws rapidly approaching, we ask that administrators reconsider a fundamental flaw in Yale’s residential college plan — its unwillingness to accommodate students seeking coeducational rooming. On a campus that takes great pains to maintain an atmosphere of tolerance and consideration for all members of its community, the University’s ban on mixed-sex rooms and suites is woefully antiquated.
In most social respects, we consider Yale to be as tolerant as can be expected. For that reason, the University’s outmoded restrictions on this fundamental tenet of student life seem foolish. Nominally defended as a means to ensure student comfort, the current policy refuses to acknowledge the existence of students who may feel more comfortable rooming with members of a different sex.
We consider this presumption indefensible. Administrators concerned about romantic complications arising from mixed-sex housing seem to assume that all undergraduates are single, heterosexual and unable to maintain platonic friendships in close quarters with someone they may find attractive. They have little to say about married heterosexual couples, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students, or even students who are comfortable with close friends of a different gender. Especially at Yale, we should be beyond such ignorance.
Of course, we can understand why the administration may be reluctant to consider such a reform. Calhoun College’s noble experiment with mixed-sex housing in the 1970s caused too many headaches. Moreover, the case of the Yale Five — a group of Orthodox Jewish students who, in 1998, protested and eventually sued the University for requiring that they live even in the same buildings as members of the opposite sex — has resulted in a less-than-encouraging official response to subsequent coed housing proposals.
We do not believe undergraduates should be forced to violate their moral codes, or their modesty, to fall into line with Yale’s housing policies. But neither do we believe that the University should limit student housing options based on sex. We realize that most undergraduates, in their first year away from home, may be unprepared for mixed-sex housing, and should therefore spend freshman year in same-sex rooms. The University should, however, offer students the option of rooming with friends of another sex once they have adjusted to life at Yale.
While we assume that some students who opt for mixed-sex suites may come to regret their choice, Yale’s current policy of segregation based on sex arbitrarily limits the comfort the administration claims to seek. The University of Pennsylvania has already implemented the option, and Harvard’s Undergraduate Council is pushing for a similar unified policy. Were a comparable opportunity available at Yale, the administration could easily leave implementation to the discretion of residential college housing committees, which have long demonstrated the responsibility to manage their considerable autonomy.
In light of the media firestorm created by the Yale Five case — and the disapproval to be expected from a certain segment of the public, including parents and alumni — the administration’s reticence to pursue mixed-sex housing can be understood. But we believe that tolerance of all members of its community consistently ranks among the University’s greatest strengths, and we ask that Yale officials accommodate the comfort of students before they worry about the comfort of anyone else.