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College Working to Debut Gender-Neutral Housing for Freshmen

The Office of BGLTQ Student Life recently relocated to the basement of Grays Hall.
The Office of BGLTQ Student Life recently relocated to the basement of Grays Hall. By Amy Y. Li
By William S. Flanagan and Katherine E. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

The College is working to debut a gender-neutral housing option for first-year students starting next year with the Class of 2022, according to Harvard administrators.

Sheehan D. Scarborough ’07, director of the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, wrote in an email to The Crimson last week that his office “has been working closely” with the Freshman Dean’s Office and the Housing Office to “create a gender-inclusive housing option” that would be available to freshmen starting in the fall of 2018.

Harvard spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday that several “current undergraduates” are also workshopping the proposal.

“Gender inclusive housing acknowledges and affirms gender diversity as a critical aspect of our campus community, and we are excited about our efforts to expand our current offerings to include first-year students,” Goldman wrote.

He declined to give more specifics, adding that the College “looks forward to having more details to share in near future.”

While it remains unclear exactly how a “gender-neutral” housing system would operate, the setup would likely allow all gender identities to room together in whatever combination the individuals choose.

Currently, Harvard does not offer gender-neutral living arrangements for freshmen. Since 2014, though, all rising sophomores, juniors and seniors have been able to request gender-neutral rooms in their upperclassmen Houses.

“Rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors may request to form mixed-gender rooming groups,” the Harvard College Student Handbook asserts. “All occupants must voluntarily agree to the arrangements and must sign a gender neutral housing contract confirming their agreement.”

Students on campus have been urging College administrators to expand gender-neutral housing to freshmen for at least a year. In the fall of 2017, following advocacy from the Trans Task Force, the Freshman Dean’s Office and the BGLTQ Office formed a committee that aimed to draft a proposal laying out options for first-year gender-inclusive living spaces.

The committee included members of the Trans Task Force, the BGLTQ Office, the FDO, and the Office of Student Life.

The group has never released a public report of any kind—but, speaking at a panel at the Democracy Center in Sept. 2017, Scarborough said Harvard was reviewing proposals to add gender-neutral housing for freshmen.

After the panel, the FDO and the BGLTQ Office released a joint statement outlining the status of efforts to create gender-inclusive living option at the time.

“Students and staff from the FDO and the Office of BGLTQ Student Life are currently exploring options for expanding gender-inclusive housing to the first year class,” the statement read.

One logistical concern posed by gender-neutral rooming arrangements is the fact that some students are under the age of 18 when they arrive on campus. Undergraduates’ underage status could complicate the College’s decision to offer mixed-gender housing.

On issues like these, the committee has sought legal advice from Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel, Resident Dean of Freshmen for Ivy Yard Michael C. Ranen told The Crimson in Nov. 2017.

Ranen also said at the time that the committee was looking to other universities to evaluate how they approached gender-inclusive living options.

“The models are that most schools do not offer gender-inclusive housing for first-year students,” Ranen said in November. “If students are under 18, they usually require parental consent.”

—Staff writer William S. Flanagan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @willflan21.

—Staff writer Katherine E. Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @katherineewang.

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