Two students, Elizabeth King ’13 and Joey Radu ’13, will be living in a two-room double in Coffrin Hall for the 2010-2011 school year. But their housing drama did not involve excessive talk of room draw numbers or incessant sorting through floor plans. Instead, a different challenge: King and Radu are of different sexes and Middlebury’s housing policy assumes single-sex as the norm for doubles and two-room doubles. Although the pair eventually convinced Atwater Commons’ Dean Scott Barnicle to change its policy specific to two-room doubles in Coffrin, they are maneuvering for a larger campaign supporting gender neutral housing across the campus.
Gender neutral housing is described in King and Radu’s facebook group as simply, “allowing students to choose living partners regardless of gender—whether one lives in a double, two-room double, or suite.” But the implications are a bit more complicated. The largest concern about gender neutral housing is aimed at heterosexual couples looking to live together under a new policy. But Tony Huynh ’13, a freshmen senator, argues that there is double standard because “same-gender couples currently can live together.” While he would discourage any couple from rooming together, he looks for equity in the policy.
This is a timely conversation with the recent release of the Gender Exclusivity Report and Transgender Report from the Dean of Students Office which examines compliance with Title IX. These reports touch on the issue calling generally for discussions, inventories, and further research on housing but also bathrooms and a number of other student life areas. Still the reports do not discuss gender neutral housing specifically perhaps because there is no official written policy on the matter. But King and Radu are unwilling to take a wait-and-research approach, advocating instead for immediate action and campus-wide awareness.
The debate will come up this Sunday at the weekly Student Government Association (SGA) meeting at 7PM in the Crest Room where Radu, King, and Huynh will be giving a presentation and looking for a vote to push Community Council and the administration on the matter. The SGA itself has no official power in the matter.
The issue of freshmen housing is an additional challenge that Radu, King, and Huynh are holding back on tackling because of the complexities of incoming students without a voluntary choice of roommates. Despite the large number of doubles on campus are assigned to first years, Huynh says the SGA bill targets sophomores and above with future hopes to address first years and added that “inclusion of freshmen in the bill might derail the process.” Radu writes in an email that the freshmen question is “far more controversial and complicated than gender-neutral housing for sophomores and above.”
Perhaps the most convincing argument in advocacy for gender neutral housing is one which honors transmen and transwomen’s preferences to live with students who are of the opposite gender, but of the same sex, or of the same sex but of opposite gender. Transgender discussions reach beyond the limited literature available to students on the popular facebook group but are lightly addressed in King and Radu’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek op-ed in The Campus today.
Two years ago, the Queer Studies House (QSH) became the first explicitly and officially gender neutral space on campus. Because the house was placed in a building with all singles, the QSH does not immediately encounter discussions of gender neutral housing within doubles, but the members of the house and Middlebury Open Queer Alliance (MOQA) have ongoing discussions about the issue. Huyhn, Radu, and King will all serve on the board of MOQA next year, and Huynh will be living in the QSH.
There may be some intermediate solutions that do not involve campus-wide gender neutral housing. Formalizing policies on applying for exceptions to single-gender doubles are common among colleges. UVM is installing special housing for students, transgender or not, who want to live with someone of the opposite sex or gender starting next Fall.
Still, “The hope is to have a new campus-wide policy in place for roomdraw next year,” says Huynh who also says most students he’s talked to are positive or ambivalent about the subject. And Radu believes that housing is actually only the beginning:
Gender-neutral bathrooms are a topic I would like to address after gender-neutral housing, but I’m afraid my solution is one the Administration would be unlikely to take up. Essentially, all public restrooms on campus should be designated gender-neutral… Gender segregation does not provide any kind of inherent privacy, and thus, to be private, bathrooms must be redesigned. Creating bathrooms with showers that provide actual privacy, however, costs money, and that is where I expect to run into all sorts of trouble. And I haven’t even touched on locker rooms yet!