Beginning this fall, all undergraduate and graduate dormitories will offer gender-inclusive housing.
This means that “people are not limited to have to share a room with someone of a specific gender identity,” Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life and Dining Henry J. Humphreys said in an interview with The Tech.
Students, including incoming freshmen, will be permitted to opt in to gender-inclusive housing; students will not be assigned to gender-inclusive rooms without their consent.
The MIT Residential life and Dining website defines gender-inclusive housing as “a policy that provides MIT students with the option to live in residences with whomever they choose, regardless of biological sex, gender, or gender identity.” This definition leaves the details about implementation up to individual dorms.
“Freshmen requesting GIH will be contacted by Housing to discuss specifically what rooming situation they prefer,” Maseeh president Sydney E. Hodges ’16 wrote in an email to The Tech. “Upperclassmen and Spring [in-house] lotteries [at Maseeh] will be run the same as always — just with the option to room with another student regardless of biological sex, gender, or gender identity.”
This will be East Campus’s second year with gender-inclusive housing. Last year’s incoming freshmen at East Campus were asked to fill out a questionnaire to indicate their interest in gender-inclusive housing. EC room assignment chair Sonja Postak ’16 said that future surveys will include an option “please place me in a GIH room,” in addition to last year’s options of “I am not interested in GIH” and “I would be interested in a GIH room but do not require it.”
According to minutes from a Random Hall house meeting, students there will only be able to take advantage of gender-inclusive housing by using ‘pull-ins.’ Under the new system, students will be permitted to invite any other resident — regardless of gender — to be their roommate if they are assigned to (or choose) an otherwise-empty double.
The movement for gender inclusive housing began in spring 2013. Cory Hernandez ’14 and a group of interested students pointed out to Dormcon and MIT Residential Life and Dining that MIT was lacking gender-inclusive policies. Many other schools, including all Ivy Leagues, already had such policies at the time.
One of the main obstacles that Hernandez faced while advocating for gender-inclusive housing was establishing a communal understanding of what the policy would entail. In order for gender-inclusive housing to be implemented, a committee consisting of the Housing Strategy Group, representatives from Dormcon, all of the housemasters, and Chancellor Barnhart had to agree on the policy. Humphreys sought “complete buy in from the committee,” and therefore needed to “be able to clearly and simply explain gender-inclusive housing.”
Articulating the policy unambiguously was a time-consuming component of the process, which was one factor in causing the delay in the policies originally intended to go into effect for spring 2014.
When Hernandez graduated in 2014, the process was not yet finished. Matthew J. Davis ’16 and Phoebe Whitwell ’15, who were the Dormcon housing chairs at the time, then became the leaders of the initiative.
Determining how to make the new option available to incoming freshmen had been a sticking point in recent months.
Some schools, such as Brown, Columbia, and Princeton, do not allow first-year students to live in gender-inclusive rooms. Others, such as Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, and now MIT, do have a procedure for including first year students.
Students in the class of 2018 were given space on the first-year housing application to indicate that they were interested in gender-inclusive housing. The form provided MIT’s definition of gender-inclusive housing, as previously quoted, and a statement informing them that MIT discourages romantic couples from sharing a room. The form does not, however, require students to provide a reason for requesting gender-inclusive housing. They were then asked to answer the question “are you interested in gender inclusive housing?”
Housing will contact first year students who answered “yes” to confirm that they are still interested in gender-inclusive housing. Housing will then give the names of all interested students to the rooming chairs in each dormitory. The rooming chair will use the list to assign freshmen to their temporary rooms.
While MIT’s policy explicitly discourages romantic couples from using the policy, Humphreys said enforcing this suggestion as a rule would be too invasive and it is likely that communities will self-regulate. “There is no way to absolutely prove it” Humphreys said; “the policy discourages it and actually the communities are the ones that hold each other accountable.”
MIT Residential Life and Dining also collaborated with other schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Duke, while crafting the gender-inclusive housing policy.
A module on gender-inclusive housing will be incorporated into training for GRTs and RLADs this year. MIT Residential Life and Dining is also working with rooming chairs from each dormitory. According to Humphreys, it’s important that everyone involved in housing “understands the issues that surround it and can support members of the community.”
“I think the very deliberate and careful process that all of these groups went through combined was the best way to approach it,” Matthew D. Bauer, director of communications for the Division of Student Life, said in an interview with The Tech. “People who were involved in this process were really committed.”
“I can tell anyone with absolute confidence that we are an open and welcoming environment,” Humphreys added.