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.”

  • DF

    I am neutral on GNH, which does not seem to have affected life for 95+% of students in any school it’s been implemented (I am pleasantly surprised at the maturity of young undergrads in this respect). But to call it an LGBT rights issue is, as far as I can tell, preposterous, and bizarrely unquestioned by both the student and general press across the country.

    As regards gender identity: Transwomen are women, and transmen are men. These students should be treated this way by default, should be allowed to begin identifying as such at anytime, and might e.g. even be given preferential status for singles during their transition; students with more specialized needs (a minority even within this tiny minority), such as those who decline any gender identification, can be given their choice of living arrangements on request.

    As regards sexual identity: This issue is not even relevant. Gay people are not particularly known for their discomfort around the same sex. It was straight people, historically, that seemed to have the discomfort at the idea of gays among them. The idea that the traditional gender order underlying society (separate locker rooms, etc.) was somehow predicated on heterosexuality being the normative orientation—that gay people, or the idea of recognizing their existence and rights, would be somehow disruptive of that—was a spook story promoted by those who resisted gay liberation esp. in intimate living contexts (military, scouts, etc.). If anything, the sexual class “discriminated against” by the lack of GNH are straights, who are thereby denied the traditional gay privilege of rooming with their sexual partners.

    It had long been the claim of LGBT-phobes that the simple act of embracing the rights and legitimacy of the very small number of those who happen to be attracted to folks of the same gender, or those whose gender does not match the junk they were born with, would require significant adjustments by the majority—that it would have significant consequences for the way society as a whole does things. Debunking that myth—discovering that such choices were by their nature private and had little bearing on anyone else’s lives—was key to the success of the LGBT liberation movement. (And no, I am not suggesting that LGBTs not be “loud and proud,” or that “decent” ones should be conformist or assimilationist or unassertive of their rights or whatever. Nothing irks me more than the suggestion that there is a “right” way to be trans, gay, black, whatever. I am just saying that this—GNH—cannot reasonably be construed as one of their rights, and thus should not be tacked on to their list of demands.)

    TL;DR: I am proud that my alma mater, unlike many schools, seems to have implemented this program with proper caution and little ado, more as a gesture of
    student-friendly flexibility than as some sort of imagined social-justice duty.