When Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced in December that gender-neutral housing would become available to sophomores for the first time this fall, students greeted the news enthusiastically. But despite this enthusiasm, few members of the class of 2018 have opted to live in mixed-gender suites.
Holloway’s announcement marked the end of a more-than-yearlong campaign by the Yale College Council. The organization first formally proposed gender-neutral housing for sophomores in December 2013, after a successful push in 2012 to extend the privilege to juniors. But administrators hesitated on the issue, citing logistical difficulties as well as concerns about incoming sophomores’ inexperience in choosing housing for themselves. Specifically, administrators worried that gender-neutral housing would complicate the housing draw, especially as each residential college’s physical space is differently equipped to handle mixed-gender housing configurations. But this winter, after a drawn-out process that required the approval of the residential college masters and deans, Holloway announced that the policy could go into effect.
“Because of the way colleges and suites are formatted, it was easier to organize gender-neutral housing for some colleges but more difficult for others,” Holloway told the News on Tuesday. “It wasn’t that a particular college did not want gender-neutral housing — it was more about how [the assignment] can happen logistically.”
Despite student support for the policy change, Holloway said very few sophomores actually decided to take advantage of the gender-neutral housing option. He added that the policy has not encountered any problems so far.
There are currently no Trumbull sophomores living in gender neutral housing, according to Trumbull College Dean Jasmina Besirevic-Regan. In general in Trumbull, few students of any year choose to live in gender-neutral suites, she added, noting that only about one suite each year houses mixed-gender occupants.
Pierson College Dean Amerigo Fabbri said there are a “handful” of students in his college who chose to live in gender-neutral configurations. The deans of the other 10 colleges did not return requests for comment.
Trumbull housing representative Saran Morgan ’18 said the low numbers in her college may be due to the way the Trumbull housing draw in particular is set up, where suites are allocated by the number of male and female students in each class.
“Gender-neutral housing would probably involve some moving around of allocations,” Morgan said.
She added that only one suite of rising sophomores considered the option last spring, but the students did not end up going through with the process. Aside from possible logistical difficulties, however, Morgan said she did not have any other concerns with gender-neutral housing.
Maria Trumpler GRD ’92, director of Yale’s Office of LGBTQ Resources, said many concerns about gender-neutral housing concerns did not materialize, due to good planning and collaboration between the administration and student advisory groups.
“The big change I noticed was that first-years creating rooming groups had much more freedom to find [a configuration] that was comfortable for them,” Trumpler wrote in an email, calling the decision to extend the option a great one.
Sophomores who did take advantage of gender-neutral housing this year expressed satisfaction with their choice, regardless of whether they chose the option because they did not feel comfortable in traditional same-sex housing or simply so they could live with their friends. Micah Osler ’18, who lives in a suite with two females and four other males, said he chose to live in a mixed-gender suite for entirely social reasons. He noted that the experience has been “incredibly mundane” and has not caused any of the complications that some predicted.
Eight additional students interviewed all expressed their support for extending the gender-neutral housing option to sophomores. But the students all said they would not personally choose the option.
Mrinal Kumar ’18 said it is possible that students have not yet felt an impact because the policy is still very new. Over time, it will likely create more positive change, he said, adding that just the implementation of the policy is a step forward.
“[The policy] shows Yale’s good effort to care about gender issues among students,” he said.
Sophia Eller ’17 pointed out that the policy will particularly benefit the individuals who feel more comfortable being surrounded by friends of the opposite sex. Recalling a friend of hers who did not get along with his roommates his freshman year and ended up choosing a single-person suite during his sophomore year, Eller noted that he might have had a better option had gender-neutral housing been available.
Eli Feldman ’16 said he has friends who have had a very positive experience with gender-neutral housing.
“I know a group of close friends, of six to seven students, [who chose] gender-neutral housing in their junior year and they loved it,” he said. “This year they chose to do the same again.”