Ahead of Policy Change, All Houses Offer Mixed-Gender Suites

Ahead of a policy change set to formally universalize gender-neutral housing options for upperclassmen this spring, all 12 Houses and the Dudley Cooperative already offer their students mixed-gender suites, although the process for requesting such housing arrangements varies from House to House.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted last spring to adopt changes to the Harvard College Handbook for Students to allow all upperclassmen to request mixed-gender rooming groups, no matter in which House they reside. The policy change, which came after students lobbied for the effort, will take effect with the spring’s upcoming rooming lotteries, according to Associate Dean of Student Life William Cooper ’94.

At the time of the Faculty vote, the majority of Houses had already opted into a pilot program, which the College originally launched in 2011, relaxing logistical limitations on which rooms could serve as gender-neutral suites.

According to Van Bailey, the College’s director of BGLTQ student life, the process of requesting gender-neutral housing varies from House to House, just as their rooming lotteries differ, although his office does not currently have information on the rooming situation in each House.

In Lowell House, according to House Administrator Elizabeth G. Terry, there is no formal application to request a mixed-gender suite; students ask Terry before the spring rooming lottery or their housing assignments. In Leverett House, students need not formally request to form a mixed-gender rooming group, but they are required to fill out a contract if there are no locks on bedroom or bathroom doors within their suite, according to House Master Howard M. Georgi ’68.

Cooper wrote in an email that most House rooms and suites will be available for gender-neutral housing once the policy takes effect, although students should discuss details with their own House administrators.

Because House rooming lotteries will not take place until later this spring, the Office of Student Life will not tally how many total students are in gender-neutral housing across the Houses or assess how effective the system has been until “late August at the earliest,” Cooper wrote.

However, he wrote that Houses that had been part of the pilot program reported positive experiences.

“We’re eager for this option to be to be available throughout the Houses,” Cooper wrote.

Now that administrators are implementing universal gender-neutral housing in the Houses, some students are pushing to increase mixed-gender housing options for freshmen.

“I think that gender-neutral [housing] for freshmen should be of the utmost importance to the University and should be where it heads next,” said W. Powell Eddins ’16, a former co-chair of Queer Students and Allies.

According to Michael C. Ranen, a freshman resident dean for Ivy Yard, administrators at the Freshman Dean’s Office have discussed gender-neutral housing. “Right now, [gender-neutral housing is] on an individual basis, but we’re constantly discussing best practices and what should be done moving forward,” Ranen said. “We’re following the trend of the Houses.”

Ranen added, however, that there are some challenges to implementing gender-neutral housing that are unique to freshmen, such as students’ younger age, their adjustment to a new college environment, and the FDO’s practice of assigning roommates.

Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde said in an interview early this month that the OSL expects to comprehensively assess and make recommendations regarding gender-neutral housing to the Houses once the policy has been implemented for several more semesters.

—Staff writer Kristina D. Lorch can be reached at klorch@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Quynh-Nhu Le can be reached at quynhnhu.le@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @qnhule.

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