Last year, Yale almost approved gender-neutral housing for undergraduates. The policy, which would have allowed sophomores, juniors and seniors to pick suitemates of any gender, was approved by a majority of Yale students and the Council of Masters, but failed to win approval from the Officers of the Corporation, because they felt they lacked enough information about how the policy would affect our university specifically.
Now, Princeton has officially approved a policy of gender-neutral housing for the 2010-’11 school year, making us the last remaining Ivy without any form of gender-neutral housing. In so many areas, Yale is a leader. However, on issues of sexuality and gender we have been a follower at best: in 2006, Yale became the last Ivy to include gender identity in its non-discrimination policy.
Yale must take this opportunity to approve gender-neutral housing — not out of some petty sense of pride or an attempt to catch up with our peer institutions — but because it is the right thing to do.
Despite claims to the contrary, implementing gender-neutral housing at Yale will not be an impossible task. Critics of the policy, including senior Yale officials, have claimed that Yale cannot immediately implement a gender-neutral housing policy because of the complications that the residential college system adds. It’s true, because room draw is already so complicated by the college system, and because everyone lives in a college, gender-neutral housing would have to be throughout Yale college, rather than in a test case scenario such as at Princeton, where only one dorm will be gender-neutral. However, this can be seen as a positive change, since at Yale, our housing is limited due to the college system, gender-neutral housing would double the number of people with whom one could potentially choose to live.
And just because something is available everywhere does not mean it is mandatory. There would always be a provision for same-sex housing. Nobody would ever be forced to live in a coed suite, in the same way that although most floors and bathrooms are gender-neutral in colleges, students are never forced to share a floor or bathroom with a suite of another gender. Gender-neutral housing might mean slightly more work at room draw time for deans and masters, but is by no means an insurmountable hurdle. In much the same way that Yale students have survived for years with gender-neutral bathrooms in their colleges, they would adjust to gender-neutral housing soon enough.
Not having gender-neutral housing discriminates against certain students, and forces them to make the same choices critics of the policy fear. Right now, students who are uncomfortable living with people of the same gender are forced off campus if they want to live with their friends.
Yale includes gender identity and expression in its non-discrimination policy, and the University’s housing options should reflect that. Although gender-neutral housing will probably never be so widespread that a majority of suites are coed, protecting the rights of even a few students to live in safe and comfortable environments is a worthy goal. People shouldn’t be forced to use gender as the primary factor when determining rooming options; plenty of people are uncomfortable living in single-sex suites simply because their closest friends are of another gender. Additionally, the argument that gender-neutral housing will create potentially sexual situations assumes that all of Yale is straight, an interesting phenomenon, given our nickname — The Gay Ivy. For many of us, living with roommates of another gender has less potential to become sexual than does living with people of the same gender.
Princeton’s decision to include gender-neutral suites in its housing options next year is commendable. I’m often proud to go a school that so often is at the forefront on issues like social progress and human rights. I, along with many other in the Yale community, urge the administration to take this chance to do the right thing, and be a leader once again. Come on, Yale, make me proud.
Sophia Shapiro is a junior in Calhoun College.