In its fourth semester of operation, Yale-NUS has become the only institution of higher education in Singapore to offer gender-neutral housing to its students.
The new housing policy — which the Yale-NUS administration has dubbed “open housing” — was approved last week, following a campus-wide survey conducted by the newly elected student government. It is slated to take effect in August 2015 and will be subject to yearly review, according to Dean of Students Kyle Farley. Two-thirds of the student body completed the survey, with 58 percent of students voting in favor of the housing change and 25 percent against. But in housing plans for the upcoming academic year, only four suites, representing less than 5 percent of the student body, opted for open housing, Farley said.
“I made the decision in consultation with several members of the administration, so this was a collective response to student sentiment,” Farley said.
When Yale-NUS moves to its new campus in August, it will offer students the choice of single-sex floors, mixed floors, single sex suites and opt-in open housing. Farley said this will not be an option for first year students but will be available for all other classes.
The low percentage of students opting in for open housing was expected, Farley said. He added that this turnout is in line with the trend at most U.S. schools, where students tend to want the option to be available, but may not choose to exercise themselves. Farley also said he had a similar experience when he was dean of Jonathan Edwards College. When the gender-neutral option was given to students there, few students selected the option.
David Chappell YNUS ’18, a member of the Yale-NUS student government, said they initially brought up the initiative to Farley before conducting the survey. Farley told them, Chappell said, that the discussion was on the table, but that he wanted to see more support from the student body. That, in turn, led the student government to conduct the survey.
During meetings with the administration following the survey, Chappell said he felt that the “question wasn’t so much the why, but the when”. He added that since the vast majority of the respondents were either in favor or indifferent towards the policy, the student government felt comfortable advocating for it.
Farley said that like other student life policies at Yale-NUS, opt-in open housing will also be up for yearly review. This is done to ensure that all subsequent classes at Yale-NUS also get a say in shaping school policies. Farley added that by definition, the first classes are the “founding generation” and will have disproportionate influence over the future of the school — but the school should also make sure that future generations have input going forward.
Farley said students should make the decision to live in a gender-neutral suite in consultation with their parents.
“We will not contact parents nor require parental approval, but we also don’t want parents learning their child is in open housing when they visit during Family Weekend,” he said.
Six students interviewed said that they are happy to see that opt-in housing will be an option at Yale-NUS.
Wei Jie Koh YNUS ’17, cofounder and member of the G-Spot — the gender and sexuality alliance at Yale-NUS — said the policy is an important step forward and indicates respect for people’s personal choices. Similarly, Adrian Stymne YNUS ’17 said the new policy affirmed his belief that student input has the power to shape school policies.
“It shows that change from status quo is possible and serves as an example of radicalism [in Singapore] that is possible,” Stymne said.
Florence Yuan Feng YNUS ’17 said that while she is personally indifferent to the policy, she is glad that it will be an option for students who want it. She also said she agrees with the decision to institute a yearly review, given the nature of the policy and the need for each class to have input in it.
But Jason Carlo Carranceja YNUS ’18 said that while most students have come out praising Farley’s decision, it actually does not matter much for current students looking at housing for next year. He said this is because most suite preferences have already been submitted, and most students know that reorganizing suites will only result in a commotion.
Yale-NUS requires students to live on campus all four years.