Gender-Inclusive Housing Approved
Issue   |   Thu, 02/09/2012 - 18:57

When students fill out their preferences for Room Draw 2012 in a few weeks time, they will have a brand new option: gender inclusive housing. Following the College’s recent inclusion of gender identity and expression in its nondiscrimination policy, the Board of Trustees approved a campus-wide petition to allow students to choose roommates regardless of gender.

Sponsored by the Pride Alliance, the petition has been in the works for a few years now and garnered over 300 signatures from students and alumni. It makes an exception for first-years, who will continue to be paired with members of the same sex unless they specifically request an exception. Residential Life would then meet directly with those students to work out the most suitable housing arrangements for them. The petition also requested that every dormitory have one designated gender inclusive bathroom and made provisions for students who may want to live in a single-gender environment. The new policy would not force any students who did not want roommates of the opposite sex. Opt-out housing placements would continue to be decided based on gender, unless otherwise requested by the student.

While the original petition hoped to meet with the College Council, Dean of Students Allen Hart and Director of Residential Life Dean Torin Moore approved it directly. Dean Moore reported that his office was currently working on implementing the new policy by the upcoming Room Draw. If all goes according to plan, the College will join a long list of peer institutions and Ivy League universities that have already instituted the gender inclusive housing policy, including Williams College, Hampshire College, Harvard Univ., Columbia Univ. and Dartmouth College.

For many students, this change allows them to feel more comfortable in their Amherst housing and marks a major step in the College’s accommodation for students of different sexualities and sexual orientations.

“I think gender inclusive housing can be a good option for members of the LGBTQIA community who don’t feel comfortable with a same-sex roommate,” said Pride Alliance co-chair Ali Simeone ’13. “This gives them the opportunity of a happier and more comfortable living arrangement with someone of the opposite biological sex. Gender inclusive housing also removes the emphasis of gender binaries (man/woman) that can sometimes be restricting for individuals transitioning or those who do not identify as either gender, or somewhere in between.”

However, many students, including those who drafted the petition, voiced fears that couples would abuse this option by living together. To prevent this, the petition suggests language to discourage such behavior from occurring, and Residential Life has investigated how peer institutions have dealt with this possibility.

“We have spoken to colleagues at a number of our peer colleges that have implemented gender inclusive housing policies,” Dean Moore said. “Although this concern was sometimes raised when they first adopted the policy, none of them reported that it has been a problem. Based on these conversations, I do not expect this to be an issue on our campus. However, our policy will address this concern and we will work with students to avoid any problems.”

Julia Eichenfield ’12, who spearheaded the petition, does not believe that this policy will really impact romantic couples or even change the way they choose their housing.

“This actually isn’t a major change to the housing policy, so we don’t anticipate any huge changes for students and campus life. Mixed gender room groups were already allowed in suites; this just opens up the options of doubles and allows all students to choose their roommates regardless of gender or room type. So it allows students more freedom to choose the best roommate. This is certainly a positive step and very important for some.”

Some students were less enthusiastic about the new policy, though still supported a change that would allow their peers more freedom.

“I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea, but it’s a choice that we give people, and if they choose one path and later find out they have chosen poorly, then that’s that,” Matt Fernald ’13 said. “I don’t think problems associated with this change will be incredibly numerous. At its base, this change will allow everyone to room with their most preferred partner.”

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