Equal Housing, Unequal Houses

Despite acceptance of gender-neutral housing, policies vary widely across Houses, with inconsistent policies

Joshua D. Blecher-Cohen ’16 was disappointed when Cabot House administrators did not agree to consider his request for mixed-gender housing last spring.

According to Blecher-Cohen, House administrators said that they wanted to get to know his blocking group while they were sophomores before placing them in a mixed-gender suite.

Disturbed by the varying accessibility of mixed-gender housing within the House, Blecher-Cohen and his blockmates engaged with Cabot staff in person and via email throughout the summer and fall until they convinced administrators to begin offering mixed-gender housing—formerly available only for juniors and seniors in the House—to sophomores starting next fall.

Blecher-Cohen is not alone in his desire for increased access to gender-neutral housing. As students have cast their votes in this year’s Undergraduate Council election, they have also been able to vote on a referendum, which made its way to the ballot after over 700 students signed a petition to make gender-neutral housing options available to all students.

The referendum, which is being voted upon through tomorrow evening, is the latest demonstration of student activism around the issue of gender-neutral housing, a movement born out of frustration with the inconsistent implementation and problematic stipulations that some students perceive in the College’s current policy.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

Though the push for gender-neutral housing at Harvard has gained momentum in recent years, some students remain dissatisfied with the conditions they must meet in order to guarantee their desired housing option.

The Office of Student Life first formalized a gender-neutral housing policy for the College in April 2010. As stated on its website, the OSL allows mixed-gender rooming on a case-by-case basis “in certain circumstances, such as to accommodate students with a gender-based need (i.e. transgender students).” The policy requires that the mixed-gender suites contain single-gender bedrooms with door locks.

But when applied to Houses with few singles and many walk-through bedrooms, these policies effectively restrict the number of potential mixed-gender suites, says W. Powell Eddins ’16, political co-chair of Queer Students and Allies.

In response to Houses’ limited abilities to meet demand for mixed-gender suites, the College relaxed the single-gender bedroom and lock stipulations through a pilot program that launched in June 2011. According to a University press release, the program, which at the time comprised five undergraduate Houses and the Dudley Housing Cooperative, would enable the College to better understand the operational issues involved in implementing gender-neutral housing.

Despite these advances, some students still say that mixed-gender housing should be available to all students rather than on the College’s terms.

“If everyone could just have gender-neutral housing, it would be so much better,” says M.G., a transgender student who asked to be identified only by his initials.

In the spring of his freshman year, M.G. met with a representative from the OSL to request placement in gender-neutral housing.

The OSL guaranteed this by placing M.G. in a special housing lottery that included only the Houses participating in the pilot program.

Though he currently lives in a gender-neutral double, M.G. says that he did not feel fully comfortable discussing his gender identity with administrators that he had never met before.

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