Light & Verity

Co-ed suites now an option for seniors

Harmain Khan ’11 was among the dozen or so students who bundled up and pitched tents on the snow-covered Cross Campus on March 3, 2009. Despite six layers of clothing and the countless hand warmers he stuffed into his socks, Khan didn’t get any sleep that night. But he wasn’t there to rest; the group had assembled to make a point, dubbing their protest a “sleep-in.” A sign fashioned from a cardboard box sarcastically declared the small camp “The Only Gender-Neutral Housing at Yale.”

Gender-neutral housing is “a non-issue” at the other Ivies and Stanford.

The group had met to oppose a decision announced by Yale College dean Mary Miller ’81PhD the day before. Yale was by then one of only two Ivies—Princeton was the other—without some form of housing in which undergraduate men and women can share suites, despite the fact that a Yale Daily News poll showed 76 percent of Yale College students in favor of such housing. Affiliates of Yale’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Cooperative had become especially vocal about the need for reform: if the reason for single-sex housing was to prevent couples from living together, they argued, then the current policy seemed to ignore the existence of gay students. But more importantly, says LGBT campus leader Rachel Schiff ’10, gender-neutral housing would simply allow “students to live with people they feel most comfortable with.” That might apply to students with unusual ways of expressing gender, but might equally apply to a man who simply happened to get along better with women, or vice versa.

Despite these arguments, Dean Miller’s March 2 announcement said that “a system-wide change at Yale would be premature” until a task force investigated its implications. Would romantic couples exploit the option of gender-neutral housing? Would conflicts brew and erupt? Yale College associate dean John Meeske ’74 was one of the people assigned to investigate how other schools had fared. After researching gender-neutral housing’s implementation at the other Ivies and Stanford, he sent a report to Dean Miller and President Richard Levin ’74PhD listing the problems other schools had reported: none. “The story I kept getting,” says Meeske, “was it was just a non-issue. People anticipated there would be problems, but they didn’t materialize.”

In late February of this year, Yale announced a new gender-neutral housing option, starting in September, for seniors only. Mixed-gender bedrooms within suites will not be permitted, and students in intimate relationships are strongly discouraged from rooming together.

Not everyone is happy about the recent decision. It “will marginalize the few conservative students left on campus,” says Isabel Marin ’12. Advocates of coed housing, meanwhile, are disappointed by the fact that the new policy does not apply to sophomores or juniors. Though the committee had initially recommended the policy apply to juniors, Meeske says “it seems reasonable to try with one foot and see how it works.” He adds that he doesn’t “personally think this was a giant step for Yale,” which has for many years allowed women and men to live on the same floors and share bathrooms.

Despite the freezing night he spent over a year ago on behalf of mixed-gender housing, Harmain Khan won’t be taking advantage of the new policy. “I never thought this would pass,” he explains, “so I signed a lease to live off campus with a girl before gender-neutral housing passed.”  

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