Our suite, if Ezra Stiles College had suites, could be on the cover of any brochure about residential life at Yale. We come from four countries on three continents and represent the diversity upon which Yale prides itself; our academic interests are similarly varied. We are leaders and members of cultural, political, and artistic organizations. We stay up late to watch movies or listen to music together, telling stories until all hours of the night. Like most suitemates at Yale, we are friends.
Of course, we live in Stiles, so we do not live in a suite, but instead are scattered in singles and doubles across different entryways in our college. Because of our busy schedules, we do not get to see each other as much as we like. We do, however, like to talk about how much easier it would be to see each other if we lived in the same suite. If we shared a space we would not have to coordinate lunches together or call each other on weekend nights to see what the others are doing. Though we have different habits and tastes, we are close enough to compromise on nearly anything, from music to decoration. Our hypothetical suite, furnished with hand-me-down futons, Urban Outfitters pillows, and vintage movie posters on the walls, would look much like any other at Yale, though perhaps with fewer right angles.
Unfortunately, even if we were in another college we would not be allowed to live together, because two of us have internal genitalia, and four of us have external organs. Yale has deemed this small anatomical difference grounds to keep us in separate living spaces for four years. We can share meals, bathrooms, even beds, as long as we are officially listed in different rooms. We are not, however, looking to have sex with each other, nor cause mayhem. We simply want to live with our friends, and for this reason we ask for gender-neutral housing.
Much of the dialogue about gender-neutral housing has centered on the need to welcome transgender students, and this is certainly an important task. Gender-neutral housing is not, however, only for this small minority. Housing should be gender-neutral so that all of us have the option to live with whomever we choose, regardless of their sex. The arguments of those who have opposed gender-neutral housing have been refuted numerous times by others, but in the end Yale’s sluggishness to embrace gender-neutral housing has simply perpetuated the divide between women and men. How are we to come to respect each other when we cannot live together?
Many of Yale’s peer institutions have embraced gender-neutral housing since 2003, leaving Yale looking more and more backwards. Yale also changed its non-discrimination policy to include “gender identity or expression” in 2006, yet two years later students who pay $11,000 a year are still restricted in their choice of suitemates. There has been some progress, however; an ad hoc committee of administrators was formed last year to investigate the possibility of gender-neutral housing, but it is unlikely to go forward if the Council of Masters rejects the proposal, as it rejected Edward Chang’s ’10 proposal last November.
Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske said last April that he was “not sure” if “there is a need” for gender-neutral housing, and much of the debate the matter has questioned whether such drastic changes to Yale’s housing policy should be made for such a small transgender minority, if it exists at all.
While Yale should introduce gender-neutral housing in order to uphold its non-discrimination policy, no matter the number of students affected, there is clearly a need in the larger community. The six of us, and countless other students, feel we need gender-neutral housing not only to live with our friends, but also to move towards a community free of outmoded ideas of sex and gender.
We call upon the Council of Master to encourage the administration to adopt gender-neutral housing policies, both to end the discrimination against transgender students and to give greater freedom to all students in choosing their suitemates.
Gender-neutral housing is for all of us.
Ryan Caro, Taylour Chang, Ian Convey, Geoffry Liu, Molly Silverstein and Daniel Suarez are sophomores in Ezra Stiles College.