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Gender-Neutral Housing On Table?

By Danielle J. Kolin and Eric P. Newcomer, Crimson Staff Writers

The two insider Undergraduate Council presidential candidates disagree on whether all Harvard undergraduates should have access to gender-neutral housing.

Currently, only students with a “gender-based need,” primarily transgender or transitioning students, are guaranteed gender-neutral housing, which allows students of any gender to share a suite.

A UC position paper holds that all students over the age of 18 living in a House should be allowed to lottery for mixed-gender housing regardless of their gender identity or perceived need. UC presidential candidate George J.J. Hayward ’11 has endorsed the recommendations.

The paper, written by UC representatives Daniel V. Kroop ’10 and Michelle E. Crentsil­­ ’10, will eventually be put before the Council for a vote.

“Everyone should have the right to gender-neutral housing,” Hayward said in an interview yesterday.

But the other major UC presidential candidate, John F. Bowman ’11, said that gender-neutral housing only needs to be given to those with a gender-based need.

“If you have no gender-based need... I don’t think it’s Harvard’s obligation to provide you housing,” Bowman said. “I would say that has not arisen as a major need of Harvard students, and therefore it’s not something I would push for.”

Expanding the policy could jeopardize access to gender-neutral housing for those who need it the most, said Joshua McIntosh, associate dean for student life at the College.

“There are students who want gender-neutral housing and there are students who need gender-neutral housing,” McIntosh said.

Because the policy is restricted, the “handful” of self-identifying transgender students have all had their requests met despite the limited number of gender neutral suites in some Neo-Georgian houses, McIntosh said.

Harvard College Queer Students and Allies board members Marco Chan ’11 and Jia Hui Lee ’12 echoed McIntosh’s concern.

“Due to the limited number of suites available, I don’t think it’s a good thing to expand the policy as it is,” Lee said.

As the policy currently stands, those who are neither transgender nor gender questioning can still ask for mixed-gender housing, but their requests are not necessarily accommodated and differ by House.

“We want to make it more of a University-wide policy, so there’s some degree of standardization in it so it’s not going to rely on how conservative a House master is,” Hayward said.

Supporters of an expanded gender-neutral housing policy, including Hayward and Kroop, believe students with a gender-based need should still be given priority. According to the paper, they would be guaranteed a gender-neutral suite without participating in the housing lottery.

The position paper suggests creating more gender-neutral housing by installing locks in gender-accommodating suites. Hayward quoted a draft of the position paper, which is being developed in consultation with the QSA and the Transgender Task Force, in his response to a publicly available QSA questionnaire for UC presidential candidates.

But not all suites would meet the College’s standards for gender neutral rooms, McIntosh said. For example, locks cannot be installed on walkthrough bedrooms or in rooms that have the only fire exit.

After Harvard undertakes its House renewal project, slated to begin in 2012, there may be more suites that could hold gender-neutral rooming groups.

The Report on Harvard House Renewal released in April suggests that Harvard housing should get “as close as possible to making all suites gender neutral.”

—Staff writer Danielle J. Kolin can be reached at dkolin@fas.harvard.edu

—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at newcomer@fas.harvard.

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Undergraduate CouncilHouse LifeStudent Life