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Better late than never—last week, Yale became the last Ivy League school to include a gender-neutral housing option in its housing policy. Under the new guidelines, rising seniors can choose to live in mixed-gender suites but not mixed-gender bedrooms, although students in romantic relationships are strongly encouraged not to live with each other. This decision, albeit somewhat limited in scope, is a positive step on the part of the Yale administration toward providing an environment for its students to live in that is as comfortable and desirable as possible.
Yale’s policy change is especially significant because of the particular nature of student housing at the school. Like the Harvard house system, Yale’s residential college system is designed to encourage students to stay on campus throughout their four years. However, it seems that the system doesn’t work quite as well as Yale would like—a recent Yale Daily News article cited a figure of 20 to 30 percent of upperclassmen living off campus. Given that many students who live off the Yale campus cite housing restrictions as a motive for leaving the residential college system, it is reasonable to assume that the proposed changes may encourage students to move back on campus and cause fewer students to leave in the first place.
Additionally, providing students with an option to live in a mixed-gender suite appropriately reflects the Yale administration’s trust in the ability of its collegians to make mature decisions about their living arrangements. After all, it is the students who clamored for an alteration in Yale’s housing rules, and student activist groups—such as the Yale College Council and the LGBT Cooperative— deserve praise for their efforts to engineer a policy change. It is gratifying to see that Yale administrators clearly listened and responded to student concerns.
Obviously, by granting students the right to live in mixed-gender suites, Yale runs the risk that a handful of couples will take advantage of the change and choose to live together, despite discouragement from college officials. The benefits of mixed-gender suites, however, mitigate that small risk. Additionally, refusing to introduce a gender-neutral policy would have ignored the fact that homosexual couples may already have been living together in single-gender suites. Among many others, one of the key benefits of Yale’s housing policy change is that it helps remove this type of normative judgment on students’ lifestyles and preferences, even if that judgment and discrimination was entirely unintentional on the college’s part.
Hopefully, Yale will soon extend gender-neutral housing options to all upperclassmen. Yale freshmen, like Harvard freshmen, are placed in randomized housing arrangements, making gender-neutral arrangements much more difficult. Harvard already makes provisions for entering first-year transgender students, should they request special housing arrangements, as well as options for transferring rooms after arriving on campus. That being said, the Freshman Dean’s Office is justified in seeking to create diverse rooming assignments, and we hope that students are comfortable abiding by the FDO’s decisions.
Students at other universities—where living off campus is the norm and not the exception—already have complete control over whom they share living space with and are responsible for making smart decisions (such as choosing not to room with a significant other because a break-up would cause utter disaster). Colleges like Yale and Harvard, which pride themselves on having most of their students live on campus throughout their undergraduate experience, should also trust their students to use good judgment. Freeing up housing restrictions is a step in that direction, and will hopefully make living on campus as enjoyable as possible.
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