Princeton’s new gender-inclusive housing policy is beneficial to all Princeton students, not just to those who “expressly need” it. Two weeks ago, the Editorial Board of The Daily Princetonian recommended that Princeton Housing Services “exercise caution” when implementing the policy for the upcoming school year. The Board presumes that this policy confers special treatment on people who identify outside the gender binary or otherwise request mixed-gender rooms. It believes Housing Services must take extra care to account for the “well-being of all students,” given that the rules for room draw already “enhance living choice for some while restricting it for others.”
But it is through the gender-inclusive policy that Housing Services will account for the well-being of all students. The policy should not be conditioned to appease those who don’t care for it.
The point of this policy is inclusivity. Speaking of special treatment, having only single-sex options inevitably prefers heterosexual and cisgender individuals. It stigmatizes queer and genderqueer people by forcing them to publicly declare gender status, assuming that their sex aligns with their gender identity, and assuming that individuals feel most comfortable living with others “of their own sex.” Gender-inclusive housing is actually an equalizer, as it dislocates gender from its position as the primary determinant of living situations.
The Board is concerned that students who check the “gender-neutral” box on their housing form won’t know what that entails. It recommends that these students “receive written notice that expressing the preference or need for such housing may result in sharing a multiple occupancy room with men, women, trans-men, trans-women, or any other students of any other gender identities.” But this extra step is off-putting and unnecessary, implying to recipients that their request is exceptional. The Board’s concerns would be better addressed by merely adding the disclaimer next to the gender options on the housing form.
Directors of Student Life at Princeton should not, as the Board suggests, automatically “place students who express need for gender-inclusive housing in single dorm rooms for the first year at the University” without their request. Contrary to the intent of gender-inclusive housing, doing this would ostracize individuals who wish to have living situations that are social but not dictated by gender.
I agree with the Board that Housing Services should continue to recommend against romantic cohabitation, which is newly available to heterosexual couples. Also worth noting is the fact that gender-inclusive housing policies may actually desexualize the dorm environment, according to a 2011 report by the Yale College Council’s Committee on Gender-Neutral Housing. When “single-sex housing” is the norm, language around going to other people’s rooms is often more sexually charged. Our talk about “going home” with someone, for example, is partly based on the notion that one doesn’t take another person home without expecting a sexual encounter.
The Yale College Council found that on Yale’s campus, gender-inclusive housing has created an alternative model for the suite as a “coeducational space in which individuals of other genders socialize in non-sexual ways.” The benefits of this are remarkable. Yale students who live in gender-inclusive housing feel that there is “no male or female dominance” in their suites. This in turn makes women and genderqueer individuals feel safer, and contributes to healthier relationships of all kinds in these spaces.
In fact, I agree with the Board that administrators should “exercise caution when implementing the policy this year and considering similar policies in subsequent years.” But caution, in my view, hinges on the concept of “inclusive.” The policy will already minimally disturb those who don’t wish to subscribe to it. People are welcome to live with others of their same sex or gender identity. As we solidify our housing choices for next year, and as admitted students begin to consider their options, the Board would be wise to encourage all students to reflect on how we can most thoughtfully accommodate members of our community — in our ’zee groups and in our eating clubs — who want gender-inclusive housing.
Marissa Rosenberg-Carlson is a Near Eastern Studies major from San Francisco, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.