Groups Support Co-Ed Housing

The Undergraduate Council (UC) position paper supporting co-educational rooming has been gaining momentum among student groups since it passed nearly unanimously at Sunday’s council meeting.

The bill calls for the College to develop a “relatively uniform policy” allowing students to live with members of the opposite gender.

The Handbook for Students states that the College does not “ordinarily permit” co-ed rooming groups, but that House Masters may grant exceptions if “the configuration of space ensures a large degree of privacy.”

The UC’s “Rooming Choice Act” calls these restrictions on co-ed rooming “inconsistent and unfair” because the choice to allow co-ed rooming is left up to House Masters, and students in co-ed rooms are often forced to bear the costs of installing required locks on bathroom and bedroom doors.

The bill’s author, Eric I. Kouskalis ’07, said the current policy is “paternalistic in that it assumes the College can make better decisions in who students can live with than the students themselves.”

Since the legislation passed Sunday evening, several student groups—including the Harvard College Democrats and the Harvard Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA)—have announced their support for co-ed rooming.

“I think the endorsements indicate that there is broad campus support for rooming choice,” said Benjamin W. Milder ’08, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It’s not just an isolated constituency.”

Many supporters of the UC bill said the current university policy sets a double standard for heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

“The rationale for sex-segregated housing isn’t accidental pregnancy, it’s the it’s the idea that couples might room together and a break-up would be too traumatic for them to handle,” BGLTSA Co-President Ryan R. Thoreson ’07 wrote in an e-mail. “By using this rationale and ignoring the fact that the current system forces queer students to live with significant others all the time, the administration is either saying that queer relationships are qualitatively different from heterosexual ones or that the well-being of queer students isn’t important enough to mandate attention.”

The Radcliffe Union of Students released a statement saying that “mixed-gender rooms will lead to a greater understanding of gender-related issues for all undergraduates.”

But some students have expressed concern that co-ed rooming will cause an increase in sexual assault and violence.

“My primary concern is that a lot of studies show that when two members of different genders room together there’s an increased chance of abuse,” Eddie Y. Lee ’08 said. “If there’s a dating couple that decides to room together, there might be an increased probability of rape, an increased probability of sexual abuse.”

But co-ed rooming at Harvard and other colleges has not increased sexual violence, according to Kouskalis.

Kouskalis said the housing director at the University of Pennsylvania told him the Philadelphia school had “absolutely no issues with sexual violence or sexual assault in co-ed rooms” when a policy permitting co-ed rooming was instituted last fall.

The UC position paper will be presented at the Committee on House Life meeting on Tuesday. The committee will decide whether the bill should go to a sub-committee for further consideration.

—Staff writer Rachel L. Pollack can be reached at rpollack@fas.harvard.edu.