Students create gender-neutral housing petition
“If you don’t want to live in gender-neutral housing, that’s perfectly fine,” said Emily VanderLinden ’13, the project manager of the Princeton Equality Project’s petition for expanded gender-neutral housing, in an interview at the organization’s table in Frist Campus Center on Monday night. “But to provide people who really need this option the availability to live in a safe and comfortable living space is really important.”
VanderLinden, along with PEP members Timothy Trieu ’14 and Aleks Taranov ’15, was in charge of drafting and devising the gender-neutral housing petition, which went live Nov. 9 on the website gopetition.com. The petition follows the implementation of a pilot program in Spelman Halls during the 2010-11 academic year, that permitted mixed-gender groups to draw into the dormitory’s apartment-style rooms.
“It’s about respecting the rights of your fellow students,” VanderLinden said. “It’s about affording them the same option you have to pick who they’re comfortable living with.”
Though the Spelman pilot program was a step forward for advocates of gender-neutral housing, VanderLinden said, Spelman is a “very isolated and exclusive place to live.”
“You can’t be in an eating club, you have to be an upperclassmen, you have to have three other roommates, you have to have a good enough draw time,” she said.
Last spring, VanderLinden was part of a gender-neutral group that was not able to draw into Spelman because their time was too late to allow them to pick one of the dormitory’s few rooms. Other students have similarly been turned away from gender-neutral housing.
“Limiting it just to Spelman is not exactly helping many people, since it has limits,” said Osei Wilks ’12, who signed the petition. “We have a significantly large number of people and not that big of a dorm.”
Wilks added that other friends of his who have applied for Spelman housing have also found the restrictions to be an inconvenience.
“I’ve had friends live off campus just because it was easier to commute from a nearby community rather than deal with a situation that they were uncomfortable with,” he said.
VanderLinden said that the petition supports the expansion of gender-neutral housing to any dormitory floor that is currently co-ed.
Emily Rutherford ’12, who helped the Undergraduate Life Committee draft the first gender-neutral housing proposal, also said that she supported the expansion.
“We’ve seen that gender-neutral housing has worked out well in Spelman thus far, and it seems utterly rational that not only independent students should be able to make their own choices about whom to live with,” she explained in an email.
Several students, however, noted that they still have concerns about expanding gender-neutral housing to all dorms.
A student who visited the Frist table advertising the petition said that she was uncertain about gender-neutral housing because it would allow couples to live together, and break-ups could cause logistical housing problems. Another common complaint is that gender-neutral housing could cause or endorse sexual promiscuity, according to VanderLinden.
But VanderLinden disagreed with this criticism. “It’s a pretty heterosexist view,” she said. “I disagree with the sexual promiscuity argument as a valid counterargument because your living arrangements don’t dictate your sexual habits.”
Further, students are “full, responsible adults who should be given freedom to make their own decisions,” she added.
Since the petition was created, it has acquired nearly 620 signatures of Princeton students and staff. The petition has been publicized on students’ Facebook feeds as well as at a table in Frist.
VanderLinden said that the Princeton Equality Project is aiming to acquire 1,000 signatures by Dec. 6 and will then send the petition to the Undergraduate Life Committee or the housing department. She also said that she will meet with representatives of both organizations on Dec. 8.
“Depending on what the progress is, we’ll send the petition where it needs to be,” she explained.
“We look forward to reviewing the outcome of the gender-neutral housing petition,” Director of Housing and Real Estate Services Andrew Kane said in an email when asked about the petition. “It will be carefully considered in determining the most appropriate policy for Princeton’s undergraduate housing program.”