College brings many changes — chief among them the freedom to live with your friends.
It was four years ago when a quarter of Yale undergraduates gained the option of living with friends of the opposite gender. Today, only juniors and seniors can live in mixed-gender suites.
As the new dean of Yale College, Jonathan Holloway has a lot on his plate — perhaps most significantly the student body growth accompanying the new residential colleges. But one issue of vital importance to many students is administrative resistance to the expansion of mixed-gender housing for sophomores. Though the decision also involves the Council of Masters and the Yale Corporation, it is Holloway who sets the tone for the College, and he can use his position to give credence to students’ concerns.
As the master of Calhoun College and in his early days as dean, Holloway has expressed opposition to the expansion of mixed-gender housing.
In February 2013, Holloway told the News that he did not support the policy due to “a feeling that, developmentally, sophomores are not ready for mixed-gender suites.” He offered a similar view in an interview with YTV’s “Everybody Has a Story” series last month. Holloway said research in neuroscience supports the idea that there are significant developmental differences between sophomores and juniors, although he did not cite a specific study. He also said there were logistical difficulties involved in expanding mixed-gender housing. Holloway did not elaborate beyond noting that Harvard houses its sophomores in a different way than Yale does.
We think it’s time there is a thorough and open process for laying out the pros and cons of mixed-gender housing for sophomores. This should begin with clarity from the administration on the arguments against the policy change. The College should create venues for students and administrators to discuss the issue and to ask specific questions, perhaps in the form of a town hall meeting in Sudler Hall. We should debate the issue as a community, but first we all must be on the same page about the pertinent research and logistical hurdles.
The News believes that sophomores should have the option of living in mixed-gender suites. We come to this conclusion having thought deeply about the limitations single-gender housing poses for sophomores, especially queer and gender-queer students. Yale is the only member of the Ivy League that does not offer a mixed-gender housing option for its sophomores. We should lead our peer institutions in fostering a more open environment for students of all genders and sexualities.
We also think there is a strong argument that expanding mixed-gender housing could improve Yale’s sexual culture and help reduce the likelihood of sexual assault. Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90 articulated this view in a Dec. 17, 2011 letter to the Yale College Council’s committee on gender-neutral housing. She wrote that “more flexible housing arrangements” might reduce “homophobia, heterosexism, and social ‘outsider’ status” — factors that enable sexual violence against LGBTQ students.
We agree. This housing option could help foster relationships between students of different genders — relationships that are not necessarily sexualized. Students would have more opportunities to form relationships outside tight-knit circles of single-sex friendships, promoting empathy and awareness.
We see other reasons for the expansion, not least that students here do, in fact, form friendships that cross the gender binary. The College’s housing policy enforces a set of rigid expectations that women and men behave differently — expectations with little basis in reality and yet reinforced by learned practices and norms.
Student surveys indicate strong support for sophomore mixed-gender housing. According to a YCC report last December, 90 percent of surveyed freshmen and 85 percent of surveyed sophomores expressed either support or indifference toward the policy. Seventy percent of upperclassmen living in mixed-gender suites said they would have considered mixed-gender housing as sophomores.
Yet a March YCC email alerted us that, while the Dean’s Office had been working to expand mixed-gender housing, “they encountered difficulties in restructuring living spaces in certain residential colleges.”
The email also said it was possible that then-Dean Mary Miller would recommend that her successor implement the policy change. No such luck.
We are optimistic that Holloway will take a thorough look at the merits of gender-neutral housing; we think he owes it to students. Perhaps more importantly, we hope he can bring clarity and transparency to this issue, discussions of which have been constrained by a collective lack of understanding. How would mixed-gender housing for sophomores affect room draw? How would doubles be handled? What sorts of conversations need to happen to discourage romantic partners from living together? Is the end result mixed-gender housing for freshmen?
These are all valid questions — let’s discuss them openly, and then come to a decision. We hope the result will be more freedom and more options in the lives of Yale sophomores.