When Gabe Murchison, a transgender high school senior from Sherborn, Mass., began openly identifying as male two years ago, he said it was a test to see who his real friends were. But during his transition from high school to Yale, he said, he wants to avoid the same social stigma.
So when he began thinking about visiting for Bulldog Days, he e-mailed the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, which agreed to allow him to stay with a suite of males in April.
But until University President Richard Levin makes a decision about mixed-gender housing, Murchison’s housing configuration when he arrives as a freshman in the fall is still up in the air.
Murchison’s Bulldog Days arrangement does not mean that a mixed-gender housing policy is imminent: Administrators said last year that they would decide by this spring whether to allow coed suites. A taskforce is currently gathering information on policies at other universities, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, adding that she will meet with Levin about the issue soon. Maria Trumpler, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, said the transgender student’s Bulldog Days housing arrangement does not signify a campuswide policy change.
Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou deferred to Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel, who declined to comment.
“I’ve asked Deans Gentry and Meeske to acquire further comparative data from peer institutions this week,” Miller said Thursday. The final decision on mixed-gender housing will be Levin’s, Gentry said, and a conclusive decision is expected this spring.
Murchison said that while rooming with women does not make him personally uncomfortable, he does not want to be perceived as unusual.
“If people knew I was living in a women’s suite,” he said, “they would treat me differently.”
But though he does not know whether he will be able to live with males next year, Murchison said he did not apply to college anywhere else after getting into Yale.
“It was a little reckless to go ahead and accept admission without figuring this out,” Murchison said. “I don’t want to say that I’d try to get permission to live off campus. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Trumpler, who is also a lecturer in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, said she does not believe that allowing Murchison to live with males during Bulldog Days necessarily means administrators are planning to implement mixed-gender housing collegewide. She added that Yale has always supported and cooperated with transgender students to determine their living situation, whether on or off campus. She said while transgender Yalies have generally chosen to live off-campus in the past, mixed-gender housing will give students who want to remain on campus the option of living with members of the opposite sex, without having to declare their particular sexuality or situation. But she added that not all transgender students have necessarily wanted to live with the opposite sex.
“The nice thing is that if we have mixed-gender housing, you don’t have to ask that question,” Trumpler said.
After convening a committee to study mixed-gender housing in the fall of 2008, Miller and Silliman College Master Judith Krauss (then the head of the Council of Masters) announced in March that administrators would postpone a final decision in order to study potential obstacles to implementation.
Former Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Coop co-coordinator Rachel Schiff ’10 said she thinks the administration’s stalling on the mixed-gender housing decision ignores student needs.
“I believe the student body is extraordinarily supportive of mixed-gender housing,” Schiff said. “This isn’t about just transgender students; it’s about a diverse group of students on campus.”
In conjunction with the taskforce, the Yale College Council is also gauging student opinion to inform administrators, Yale College Council President Jon Wu ’11 said. Along with researching mixed-gender housing situations at other Ivy League universities, he said, the YCC has surveyed Saybrook seniors about how their Yale experience might have been affected had they had the option of living in a coed suite. Wu said they chose to study seniors in order to gather opinions from a section of the Yale community without a stake in the eventual decision about mixed-gender housing.
Yale is the only Ivy League school that has not made plans to introduce a mixed-gender housing program. Princeton University was the most recent to announce its decision, designating Spelman Hall, an apartment-style complex for upperclassmen, as gender-neutral last October.