Students push for guaranteed religious accommodations as new housing process takes effect
The new Yale College housing process prevents students from posing requests for religious and cultural accommodations to their respective residential college deans or chaplain’s offices.
Jessie Cheung, Senior Photographer
The lack of guaranteed religious accommodations in this year’s newly standardized housing assignment process has drawn frustration from campus groups, who argue that the new process will compromise the religious expression and mental health of Muslim students.
Such housing accommodations can include having single-gender bathrooms or living on a single-gender floor. In a Yale College Council fall survey, 52 percent of the students who reported that they required housing accommodations for religious or cultural reasons said that they had encountered challenges in securing them. 86 percent of these students had requested to be placed in all-women-identifying bathrooms.
“Not guaranteeing religious accommodations … is either forcing students that need access to single-gendered spaces to live in anxiety-producing spaces and compromise their religious practices, or [having them] move off campus,” Huda Siddiqui ’25 told the News.
Previously, students who required religious accommodations could meet with their respective chaplains to make housing requests, according to Zahra Yarali ’24. If the chaplain head approved the accommodation request, the student would be removed from the housing lottery, joining a group of other students in that college who had made similar requests. Under the new housing process, there is no longer a system for requesting religious-based housing accommodations.
Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis wrote in an email to the News that he was “sensitive to students’ religious needs.” He said that Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd and the University Housing and Chaplain’s offices were in early conversations about a policy that would enable students requesting religious accommodations to access private bathrooms on a “scheduled basis.” Relevant parties will be working out details in the forthcoming weeks, he added, confirming that the assignment of bathrooms is currently on a suite-by-suite basis.
As students await a decision, some worry about the looming deadline to declare one’s housing intention — Feb. 27, 2023 at 5:00 p.m. for the fall 2023 semester.
“I’m not a hijabi, but … I saw some of my friends who do wear hijab blindsided by Yale’s lack of religious housing accommodations,” Debbie Olorunisola ’25 told the News. “While Old Campus has some in-suite bathrooms, many residential colleges do not. Since sophomores can’t live off-campus, one of my friends had to choose between living by herself—taking away a crucial part of the Yale experience and potentially negatively impacting her mental health—or living with her friends—and having to overdress herself as she went to the shower because her hallmates were men.”
Without single-gender bathrooms, Muslim women cannot remove their hijab, a restriction that also prevents them from participating in wudu, an ablution or purification with water that is performed before daily prayers. During wudu, one wipes the top of their head with their hand, and therefore must first take the hijab off.
Siddiqui said she was fortunate enough to have been granted an in-suite bathroom with all female suitemates after expressing her religious needs in her first-year housing form, allowing her to remove her hijab without compromising her personal comfort, religious practices and mental health. This year, she was allowed to receive a room assignment before the housing draw after communication with her chaplain and dean, who also designated a nearby bathroom to be reserved for women only.
Noor Kareem ’25, who was also successful in attaining a designated female bathroom, said that the enforcement of these boundaries remains blurry and can be easily violated.
“Sometimes males on the floor ignored the ‘women identifying only’ paper sign out of convenience, not knowing it was meant to accommodate for religious purposes,” Kareem said. “Multiple occasions have led us to constantly feel anxious and uncomfortable, even in the female designated bathroom.”
When Inssia Ahmed ’25 was requesting housing accommodations, the Yale College Housing Office pointed her to an outdated webpage that stated that residential college deans and chaplains have the power to grant these requests. When she spoke to her residential college dean and Muslim Chaplain, she was caught in a “loop” before being ultimately told that as of now, neither party reserves the right to guarantee accommodations.
In response to student concerns, the Yale College Council passed a proposal on Feb. 12 to standardize religious and cultural housing accommodations, which would alleviate the need for students to communicate constantly with their deans and respective chaplain’s offices. The proposal calls on the housing committee to create a form that automatically sends accommodation requests to a student’s dean and chaplain’s office, designate gender-specific bathrooms in every residential college and increase the installation of restroom signs on women-identifying floors that urge students to respect the stated boundaries.
“This policy of obfuscation has caused so much undue stress — my housing situation has been completely up in the air, to the extent where I’m not even sure who my suitemates will be or whether I will be able to live on-campus, despite wanting to stay with my residential college community and the friends I have made over the past two years,” said Ahmed, who is part of an effort by the Muslim Students’ Association to petition the current lack of guaranteed housing accommodations. “Even now, Yale hasn’t published an official statement on religious housing accomodations. Yale students deserve clarity.”
The Yale College Dean’s Office is located at 1 Prospect St.