Editorial: A call for more gender-neutral housing
To begin with, limiting gender-neutral housing to a single dorm renders its benefits inaccessible for many who might otherwise choose to participate. Residents in these dorms must follow a set of rules that do not apply to the vast majority of University undergraduate housing options: Eating club members and students on meal plans or in dining co-ops cannot live in Spelman. Though these rules are well-suited for Spelman’s apartment-style accommodations featuring four singles, a kitchen and bathroom, many students who prefer gender-neutral housing might wish to live in standard Princeton housing arrangements. The policy remains unfair to those who desire mixed gender housing but want to stay in their eating club or co-op.
The University’s ideal of nondiscrimination is at odds with a policy that explicitly gives students different housing options based on their gender identity. The gender-neutral housing pilot program moved the University closer to fulfilling its nondiscrimination ideals, and this proposed expansion will move us closer still. It is hard to think of substantial problems that are unique to mixed-gender rooms. We have considered the concern that couples who room together could break up and want to switch rooms, costing the University. This concern reveals a set of heteronormative presumptions, however: Homosexual couples can now room together anywhere on campus, and there seems little evidence that they have either misused the opportunity or inconvenienced the University by making ill-advised housing choices.
Expansion of the pilot program to all upperclassman dorms is the ideal next step. Upperclassmen also have experience choosing roommates, mitigating the likelihood of poor decisions and the risk of room changing costs. It is also worth noting that Princeton stands out among many universities with such a high percentage of upperclassmen living on campus. At many other universities, upperclassmen live off campus, free to choose whom they live with. Finally, the wait list process stands to benefit from an expansion of gender-neutral housing. Wait-listed applicants currently fill out a form of preferences upon joining the wait list, and the housing office could have more flexibility in finding rooms if students were permitted to indicate on the form their willingness to occupy gender-neutral rooms.
Living at Princeton should be an equally welcoming experience for all students. This includes transgender and genderqueer students who particularly stand to benefit by being included in an expanded gender-neutral housing option. The University and our peer institutions Brown, Columbia and Yale have cited inclusion of transgender and LGBT students as the impetus for gender-neutral housing. While incorporating these groups is cause enough to adopt the policy, more housing freedom benefits all students. The University has long sought to diversify housing and dining options to allow each student to make the most of his or her experience on campus. The expansion of gender-neutral housing is a crucial step toward that goal.