At 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29 more than 40 students gathered outside Frist Campus Center to support the gender-neutral housing proposal that the University Student Life Committee will vote on tomorrow.
At present, only dormitory buildings with at least one more room than the number of inhabitants are eligible to be gender-neutral, making only ten percent of undergraduate housing gender-neutral.
Because the extra space makes these dorms very popular, they are often the first to be taken during room draw, making them unavailable to trans and nonbinary students who don’t necessarily get to pick their rooms first. Rooms with private bathrooms, which many trans and nonbinary students may feel more comfortable using, are equally hard to get.
Currently, students can request priority access to gender-neutral housing, but the process can often be confusing and stressful. Many students who have requested priority access said that they feel the current application process, which requires students to explain their need for gender-neutral housing, pressures them to come out to housing administrators without any guarantee that they will get accommodations that meet their needs.
Despite rain, students stood outside, chanting messages like “What kind of housing do we want? Gender-neutral!” and “When trans rights are under attack, what do we do? Fight back!” Students who had shared testimonials in support of gender-neutral housing and bathrooms at betterprinceton.org recited them to the crowd.
Student organizer Lafayette Matthews ’17 said that the stressful process of requesting and potentially being denied gender-neutral housing and private or single-stall bathrooms alienates trans and nonbinary students.
"When I think about how much housing has impacted my experiences here in ways that others have not had to deal with, it just reminds me that this space wasn’t built for me or for students like me,” Matthews said.
Matthews added that he avoids accessing gendered bathrooms for fear that someone will think he is “using the wrong one” and often waits until late at night to shower in the closest available gender-neutral bathroom for fear of being seen or harassed on his way back to his room.
Lily Gellman ‘17, another student organizer, added that gender-neutral housing is even scarcer for underclassmen.
“It would have made my life at Princeton much better and more comfortable had gender-inclusive housing been readily available to me prior to my senior year … As a nonbinary person, being forced to draw only in room configurations with other women as a rising sophomore was very unpleasant in its unnecessary genderedness," Gellman said.
“The proposal before the USLC is such an easy fix that will make such a difference for people," Gellman added. "I really hope that the USLC moves quickly to approve the administration’s proposal so that no one has to go through such an alienating room draw again for such pointless reasons.”
An anonymous testimonial read by Gellman on behalf of the author explained how gender-neutral housing benefits cis-gender students as well. “I’ve never used gender-neutral housing before, but I know I’d definitely benefit from it in my social life. Being cis-male, this issue doesn’t affect me so explicitly and hurtfully, but I recognize that any change to opt-in and bring equality among all genders is so important,” the testimonial read.
The anonymous testifier added that adopting this housing proposal would particularly help mixed-gendered friend groups, stating “In high school and college, my social groups have always been comprised of women, which makes room draw a stressful period. I don’t have many male friends, especially when tied to a specific residential college." It continued, "Because of this, I’ve roomed with someone I am only fairly acquainted with. My roommate and I picked each other out of complete necessity, because it was either each other or drawing alone. While my case is not as important the struggles faced by others on campus, I know that this initiative would bring both cis- and trans- people more benefits.”
After the testimonials were over, students met inside the LGBT Center for a teach-in during which event organizers passed out snacks and informational pamphlets explaining the gender-neutral housing policy proposal and the advocacy efforts that led to it. These efforts include a petition supporting gender-neutral housing that has gained over 500 signatures, 75 percent of which were from undergraduates and 16 percent of which were from alumni. Attendees were encouraged to write emails to USLC members asking them to support the gender-neutral housing policy proposal tomorrow.