At last May’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting, the College changed its policy to allow mixed-gender rooming in every upperclassman House. Less than a year later, some undergraduates are calling for the application of the same standard to freshman housing in an effort to meet the needs of all students. We believe that this change—now being contemplated by administrators—would be a positive step towards promoting student comfort and safety.
Under the current system, incoming freshman are able to contact the Office of BGLTQ Student Life and the Freshman Dean’s Office to request gender-neutral housing outside of the usual housing preference form. At the University of Pennsylvania, however, freshmen are able to easily request gender-neutral housing. The extra step of having to contact administrators directly could leave students, especially those who identify as BGLTQ, facing an uncomfortable rooming situation that exacerbates the already-difficult transition to college life. Because freshmen are not allowed to choose their roommates, those requesting gender-neutral housing are not doing so simply to live with friends of the opposite gender.
In expanding mixed-gender rooming to all Houses in 2014, the College effectively recognized gender-neutral rooming options as a matter of necessity, not one of convenience. And students seem to agree: In 2013, an Undergraduate Council referendum calling for gender-neutral housing across the College was supported by 85 percent of voters. “I look forward to the day when all students across this campus can go into their Houses and form gender-neutral housing arrangements without having to go through major hurdles,” Undergraduate Council Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 said at the time. There is no reason that this standard should not apply to freshmen as well via the option to request a gender-neutral room on the first-year housing form.
In the case of transgender students, the issue is even more pressing. Last month’s vandalization of a sign on a gender-neutral bathroom in Eliot House is just one indication of why transgender students need options in their housing choices. Furthermore, as we recently opined, the pervasive nature of transphobia was reflected in North Carolina’s state government passing legislation that prevents municipalities from passing anti-discrimination laws based on gender or sexual orientation.
In addition to prioritizing this concern for freshmen, the College should look to standardize procedures across the Houses. In place of the varying forms and procedures, a uniform “check the box” process would prevent any disparities. Every student who wishes to live in a gender-neutral rooming group should be able to do so without jumping through unnecessary administrative hurdles. This is the logical next step in the implementation of the College’s 2014 policy changes and in the ever-evolving effort to cater to students’ needs.
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