Gender-neutral housing is sweeping college campuses across the country. Over 50 American liberal arts colleges and elite institutions like Princeton and Brown have a gender-neutral housing policy, and the number steadily grows every year. Amherst students reignited a long-simmering debate with a recently-drafted online petition requesting Amherst finally join the club.
We believe that Amherst’s liberal environment demands sensitivity toward the needs of LGBTQIA students, in recognition of the ways that Amherst discriminates against those who don’t fit in the heteronormative world view. We respect individual difference and individual choice, and thus have no reason to ignore these principles when it comes to housing.
Rutgers Univ. implemented their gender-neutral housing policy after the tragic suicide of gay student Tyler Clementi last year, understanding that gender-neutral housing provides a secure and non-threatening environment for students susceptible to harassment in same-sex environments. It also provides a non-alienating environment for transgender or gender nonconforming students. The College should not subject them to awkward or humiliating appeals to multiple deans and committees because their gender identity differs from their biological or legal sex, only to ultimately reject them. These private and pressing matters deserve a new and appropriate policy. Thus, gender-neutral housing is important not just to keep Amherst on the front lines of education policy, but also to provide a secure space for all its students.
Critics point to co-ed suites as an alternative, but roommate gender-discrimination still applies in suites. We should not make excuses to ignore a broken policy. Some students find suite environments uncomfortable, and the school shouldn’t simply relegate opposite-sex roommates to a narrow few buildings. LGBTQIA students will enter Room Draw like other students and, rather than have to fall into a year-long awkward roommate situation, should be able to pick roommates they relate to, just like any other group of friends. Is it not dangerous for the school to tell students whom they can identify and associate with?
A college can provide accommodating housing in many ways: assign dorms as ‘gender-neutral’ theme housing, expand its suite system, give priority to certain students for picking suites or allow students campus-wide to pick roommates of any sex. We think the last option is the least discriminatory, least disruptive and most practical, as it gives students access to all the housing the College has to offer, and allows them to enjoy the benefits of theme housing with a roommate they feel comfortable with.
This issue will find many apathetic students and administrators alike — it may not seem like a big deal since many of us find it comfortable enough to room with same-sex friends. However, those who feel differently are neglected with gender-discriminatory housing. Removing this dangerous and insensitive restriction will transform Amherst’s attitude towards certain members of the community, and make it a more respectful and comfortable space for all.