On Nov. 30, the University Student Life Committee will vote on a new policy proposal submitted by the Gender-Inclusive Housing Working Group that would increase the availability of gender-neutral housing.
The proposal is especially intended to help transgender and nonbinary students find housing where they feel safe and comfortable.
Currently, only dorms with at least one more room than the number of inhabitants are eligible to be gender-neutral. However, because the extra space makes these dorms extremely appealing, they are often the first to be taken during Room Draw, making them unavailable to trans and nonbinary students who may not be in front of the drawing pool. Rooms with private bathrooms, which many trans and nonbinary students feel more comfortable using, are equally scarce for the same reasons.
This proposal and the creation of its sponsoring organization are the culmination of feedback from LGBTQIA students on campus, including a petition advocating for students’ choice to choose mixed-gender housing.
Lily Gellman ’17, who helped start the petition and co-created its website, said this proposal is a “crucial step” for the USLC to take and is the result of years of on-campus advocacy for gender-inclusive housing policy.
“It is huge that in the past few months the administration decided to move forward with this effort,” Gellman said.
“If the Undergraduate Student Life Committee listens to this very pressing student need by voting 'yes' on the proposal, it will make so many students feel safer, more comfortable, and happier in their rooms,” Gellman added.
Director of Housing Dorian Johnson said that Housing and Campus Life worked together to develop this gender inclusive housing proposal, and that Housing will help implement the policy if it is adopted.
“We look forward to participating in further discussion of the proposal at this week’s USLC meeting," he said.
On the petition’s website, many students drew on personal experience to give testimonials in support of gender-inclusive housing.
Rebecca Bedell ’17 said that gender-neutral housing is a matter of mental health for many LGBT students.
“I think the main specific benefit for queer students and especially for trans students would be privacy and safety because it’s something that the vast majority of students don’t even have to think about on a daily basis,” she said.
“Do I feel safe going to the bathroom right now? What if I run into someone in the bathroom who’s going to see me, figure out that I’m trans, and do anything from giving me a weird look to harassing or assaulting me. Not that I think most Princeton students would do that, but it’s a constant fear," she said.
She also noted that not worrying about having a roommate who is hostile towards their sexuality or gender identity is an absolutely essential baseline for trans and queer students who have any sort alternate gender identity or gender expression.
She also said that the policy would benefit mixed-gender friend groups who wanted to live together.
Bedell noted that requesting gender neutral housing was difficult and often stressful. She added that, in order to request priority access to gender-neutral housing, trans and nonbinary students had to identify themselves to administrators.
“I was having a hard enough time with myself, coming to terms with everything, that I just couldn’t think about sending out emails to administrators I didn’t know and outing myself before I came out publicly at the University,” she said.
“I think it really unfairly puts the burden on the queer students, who are already marginalized and have so many other ambient stresses to worry about just because of the society we live in,” she said.
Lafayette Matthews ’17 also gave a testimonial on the petition website. He said that expanding gender-neutral housing will allow many students to feel safer by providing better access to private and single-occupancy bathrooms while allowing them to “room with friends who are affirming and supportive, regardless of their friends’ gender(s).”
He added that the current application process for gender-neutral housing places the onus on the student while providing no guarantee that the student will get gender-neutral housing.
“It absolutely pressures students to come out to people in positions of power, but coming out doesn't guarantee that an administrator will be affirming (use the correct name and pronouns) or accepting (or useful). The red tape of accessing gender neutral housing prevents many students who need it from actually seeking it out,” he said.
Matthews also noted that most gender-neutral housing is reserved for upperclassmen, making it more difficult for freshmen and sophomores to get accommodations that meet their needs during Room Draw.
Thomas Clark ’18, president of the Anscombe Society, a group whose mission statement affirms conservative interpretations of gender roles and sexuality, said that he doesn’t think there’s an issue with gender-neutral housing.
Clark is a member of the Daily Princetonian's Editorial Board.
He said that the plan would better suit the needs of a particular group of students who feel at odds with their biological sex.
He added that it is not “wrongful discrimination” to request to room with people of the same gender and that there are many reasons why rooming with the same gender makes the most practical sense for most people.
Clark asserted that gender is not a completely constructed category, and that therefore there can be valid reasons for recognizing gender differences in our rules and policies.
“I don't see this proposal having a large effect on campus culture, because by and large people are capable of acknowledging these differences while still being respectful towards fellow students who may not feel as though they fit into the gender binary,” he said.
There will be a demonstration and teach-in in support of the gender-neutral housing policy proposal on Nov. 29 at 4:30 P.M. on the Frist North Lawn.