Pfister Confirms Plans for Faculty Vote on Gender-Neutral Housing Policy

A change to the College’s gender-neutral housing policy will likely come before the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in May as part of a vote on changes to the Harvard College Handbook for Students, Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister confirmed Friday.

The proposed handbook changes will likely include eliminating the requirement that all bedroom doors in mixed-gender suites have University-installed locks, Pfister said in an interview with The Crimson on Friday morning. A vote of approval would turn the College’s existing gender-neutral housing pilot program into College-wide policy. That policy, which eliminates the lock requirement for participating Houses, was launched in 2011 and now includes at least the majority of Houses.

The vote on any proposed changes to the handbook will likely take place at the faculty meeting in May, Pfister said.

“We know that there’s an interest [among] students in having this option for various reasons,” Pfister said. “So part of the relaxation of the policies [has] to do with recognizing that.”

According to the Office of Student Life website, the current policy stipulates that the College “ordinarily” require single-gender suites, but says that it may grant requests for mixed-gender rooms in “certain circumstances, such as to accommodate students with a gender-based need.” These exceptions have been limited to suites with single-gender bedrooms outfitted with bedroom locks.

According to Pfister, all Houses have agreed to gender-neutral housing going forward. While the 2012-2013 Handbook for Students mentions the lock and single-gender bedroom requirements, the 2013-2014 handbook does not.

Undergraduate Council leaders announced at their meeting on March 9 that Pfister had told them that faculty members would likely vote to lower gender-neutral housing restrictions sometime this spring. UC Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 called the impending vote a “a huge victory for students” at that meeting.

The change, if approved, would come almost six months after 85 percent of undergraduates who participated in the annual UC presidential election voted in favor of a referendum calling for a gender-neutral housing option across the College.

Pfister said Friday that the student referendum “brought [the issue] to attention, in a way,” though he noted that the pilot program was already underway at the time of the vote.

“We’d done the pilot, and it looked like it was working, and in talking to Houses that have some significant numbers of mixed-gender suites, it seemed to be working fine,” Pfister said.

The vote on the gender-neutral housing policy change, which is expected to take place on May 6, would come as part of a single vote on several proposed changes to the handbook, according to Pfister.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at steven.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.

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