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Students Push for Freshman Gender Neutral Housing

By Jessica Min, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: April 1, 2016, at 8:07 p.m.

Some undergraduates are continuing a push that calls on the College to officially expand gender-neutral housing options to freshmen and make the process easy.

Since 2014, all rising sophomores, juniors and seniors can request gender neutral housing in their upperclassmen Houses.

According to Resident Dean of Freshman for Ivy Yard and liaison to the BGLTQ office Michael C. Ranen, incoming students who would prefer gender-neutral housing must contact the BGLTQ Office and the Freshman Dean’s Office.

“Freshman students can’t choose their roommates, so it makes gender-neutral housing slightly more complicated,” Ranen said. “We work with [those who want gender neutral housing] on individual basis to find what’s best for them.”

Ranen said that while the BGLTQ office and FDO have discussed the possibility of officially adding a gender-neutral housing option to the housing application for freshmen, they have not crafted any immediate plans.

Undergraduates advocating for such a policy argue that administrators should apply consistent policies to the Houses and freshman dorms, but acknowledge extending the option might be currently unfeasible.

“If this is something that upperclassmen Houses are now universally granting, there’s no reason why Harvard can’t adapt its current model to include an option for freshmen as well,” Joshua D. Blecher-Cohen ’16, an intern at the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, said.

Nonetheless, Keith W. Mason, a fellow at the BGLTQ office, said that they work closely with the FDO to ensure that first-year students have their needs met, particularly for those who are non-gender conforming.

“Trans and gender nonconforming students may have needs related to sharing space, such as bedrooms and restrooms, that we strive to address through our continued relationship with the FDO,” Mason said.

Blecher-Cohen pointed to other universities, like University of Pennsylvania, that provide an option for incoming freshmen to easily indicate their interest in gender neutral housing. Administrators then form a pool of students who can be matched to one another.

“Penn has proven that it’s a viable option and those who are interested in gender neutral housing should know it when they come in,” Blecher-Cohen said. “There’s no reason why it should affect Harvard’s housing process.”

Noah R. Wagner ’18, who prefers to use the gender neutral pronoun they and currently lives in a gender neutral double in Quincy, said they would have liked the option of gender neutral housing on the housing application freshman year.

“I think that if it were presented as a option you could check, it would make a world of difference for a lot of people,” Wagner said. “It’s kind of puzzling that the administration thinks it’s more important to consider as a default whether you like listening to country music in your dorm than what genders you want to live with.”

Wagner added that the students may be discouraged from seeking gender neutral housing because they must actively contact administrators.

“It shouldn’t be considered an unusual alternative accommodation but something people could consider for themselves, rather than have to go out of their way,” Wagner said.

Leah U. Rosen ’19, a board member of Queer Students’ Association, said that the lack of the option on the housing form poses an additional barrier for students.

“If you don’t have the option on the form, that is already an eraser. Having to contact the FDO is an added hurdle,” she said.

Incoming freshmen receive housing assignments in August.

—Staff Writer Jessica Min can be reached at jessica.min@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessmin17.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 1, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quotation to Joshua D. Blecher-Cohen ’16

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