Yesterday, the News reported that Yale will offer gender-neutral housing options to rising seniors this fall. We applaud the decision by the Yale administration both because it is the right action to take and because it recognizes the serious interest students have shown in this issue.
Most people’s natural inclination — and, indeed, ours — is to assume that undergraduates at Yale would choose, if given the option, to live with others of the same gender. Nobody likes the idea of boyfriends and girlfriends living together; and there is something to be said for the friendships that form in single-sex suites. At the same time, there is an undeniable discomfort for many students, especially transgender students, who feel left out by Yale’s current housing policy.
By giving students the choice of selecting suitemates regardless of gender, Yale is making strides toward creating a campus that is fair and welcoming to all. The University moved slowly to this decision, in part because the residential college system makes such policy changes cumbersome, but also because there were serious questions that remained unanswered last year. Now we have a pilot program that should put to rest any criticisms, and we hope that by next year the gender-neutral housing option will be available to all sophomores, juniors and seniors.
But as pleased as we are about the decision itself, we are more pleased that Yale officials made it in part as a response to student activism. Whatever one might think about the specifics of gender-neutral housing, there is no denying that it is good to see students fighting for a change they think is worthwhile. Yesterday’s announcement should serve as a reminder that we who are here today have a chance to shape the Yale of tomorrow.
Interestingly, the push for gender-neutral housing at Yale began not through a large student group or major organization, but rather with one passionate individual: Edward Chang ’10, then the queer resources coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale. In late 2007, Chang submitted a proposal to the Council of Masters for a gender-neutral housing option. It was rejected rather quickly, but shortly thereafter officials created a committee on gender-neutral housing and other groups took action. Rich Tao ’10, last year’s Yale College Council president, was an indefatigable advocate of gender-neutral housing, and other students have written reports, met with administrators, circulated petitions and even slept on Cross Campus when it was below freezing to show their support for the cause.
We mustn’t forget that there are always worthwhile causes to champion, and we hope students will take this moment to remember the power they themselves have to effect change on this campus and in the wider world. Even as the YCC has placed more emphasis on events than issues this year, there is room for the rest of us — and, above all, next year’s YCC president — to step up and take seriously issues such as the upcoming review of the Committee on Yale College Education’s 2003 report, the return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and the full-scale implementation of gender-neutral housing.
It seems that we may need a few more Edward Changs.