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Gender-Neutral Suites Revisited for 2008

Students will be able to select ‘transgender’ on housing lottery forms

By Victoria B. Kabak, Crimson Staff Writer

The system by which transsexual students can obtain gender-neutral housing will be updated beginning with next spring’s housing lottery, the Committee on House Life (CHL) reported at its meeting yesterday.

In collaboration with the Space Assessment Committee, a separate group charged with evaluating available housing, CHL’s subcommittee on gender-neutral housing recently formulated a list of all the suites in each of the 12 residential Houses that are suitable for gender-neutral living.

The basic criterion for a gender-neutral suite calls for each bedroom within it to have a lock on its door. All of the Houses already have suites that fulfill this rule.

Though gender-neutral housing is currently available for students who identify as transsexual, the College is trying to “regularize that process,” according to Associate Dean for Residential Life Suzy M. Nelson.

“The issue is how do we tweak it to regularize it, make it more transparent, and make it more well-known,” Assistant Dean of Residential Life Joshua G. McIntosh said.

In order to implement a more accessible system, CHL plans to work with the Masters of each House separately, particularly because the Houses conduct their lotteries differently. This would help address possible challenges of the lottery system when ensuring the availability of gender-neutral housing.

Housing forms will also be revised. Students will not be limited to identifying themselves as “male” or “female” and will be able to select “transgender.”

“Using inclusive language, which will allow students to identify as transgender, will allow us to make good housing decisions,” McIntosh said.

Katherine E. Smith ’10, the public relations chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance, said that she appreciates the “incremental steps” taken by CHL but feels that all students should have access to gender-neutral housing.

“We feel that the lock criterion is kind of an impediment to actually implementing gender-neutral housing,” Smith said. “We think that the housing committee does not understand the important reasons why gender-neutral housing needs to be universal.”

Smith added that the scope of the updated system would also be too limited.

“Assuming the housing committee divides people between male and female sexes, in the case of a gay male, he may not feel comfortable rooming with straight men for a multitude of reasons,” she said. “That student should be able to room with women because that makes him feel more comfortable.”

The revision to gender-neutral housing rules follows in the wake of a decision last April to amend University non-discrimination policy to protect gender identity.

—Staff writer Victoria B. Kabak can be reached at vkabak@fas.harvard.edu.

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