While the phrase “gender-inclusive housing” is tossed around somewhat regularly, many people are still unsure about what it exactly means or why, frankly, we care about it at all.
It is important to first of all clarify what gender-inclusive housing is not. Gender-inclusive housing is not some strange, nebulous concept that would horribly complicate housing procedures; it is not an excuse for couples of different genders to room together; and it does not mean that students will find themselves stuck with a roommate whose gender makes them feel uncomfortable. On the contrary, gender-inclusive housing is an opt-in, completely optional system that not only simplifies housing procedures, but also helps make students feel more comfortable across the board.
So what, then, is gender-inclusive housing? Simply put, it provides the option for students to choose their roommates regardless of sex or gender identity.
Rather than complicating the rooming process, gender-inclusive housing in fact removes some of the constraints that currently cause problems for many students. It simply provides students with an option; anyone who does not feel comfortable participating in gender-inclusive housing can simply choose not to opt in.
But even if the majority of students would choose not to participate in gender-inclusive housing, the availability of this option would be important to many different students, for many different reasons. One demographic includes students who identify on the trans* spectrum. These students may have a different gender identity from the gender marker on their admissions forms (which is what Housing currently uses to allow roommate selection), and they may desire a roommate of the same gender with which they identify.
Advocating for a narrower policy that would allow students to room with others of the same gender identity, rather than gender marker, is still far from a sufficient solution. For students who identify outside of the gender binary, there may not be another student in their dorm who shares their gender identity, which makes finding a roommate of a “matching” gender rather difficult.
Further, there are cisgender students (whose gender identities match the genders they were assigned at birth) who may feel more comfortable rooming with students of a different gender identity. Some gay students, for example, may prefer rooming with someone of a different gender identity. Other students may prefer gender-inclusive housing for reasons completely unrelated to gender identity or sexuality.
No one should feel excluded or uncomfortable on the basis of gender identity. Several dorms here at MIT, including MacGregor House, East Campus and Senior House, have already adopted gender-inclusive housing policies. If MIT as a whole were to officially include gender-inclusivity in its overarching housing policies, then all admitted and current students would know that MIT’s housing system is one that will welcome them.
Many universities across the country have already adopted gender-inclusive or gender-neutral policies, including Harvard, Princeton, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania. These policies range from case-by-case request-based systems, to the designation of specific spaces in residence halls as gender-neutral, to a universally-available gender-neutral option. Rather than trailing behind, MIT should join these leaders and open the option of gender-inclusive housing to all residence halls and class years.
The push for gender-inclusive housing at MIT began over a year ago with Cory Hernandez ‘14, and it has already gained significant momentum. Dorm presidents from all of the Dormitory Council dorms have signed a statement in support of gender-inclusive housing. Dormitory Council representatives have been working closely with administrators in the Housing office and LBGT services to discuss the possibility of MIT’s gender-inclusive policy and its implementation. However, a lack of sufficient meetings, combined with lingering questions about what gender-inclusive housing is and why it is important, have delayed the adoption of the policy.
The momentum may be building for gender-inclusive housing, but there is still some distance to go before an Institute-wide policy becomes a reality. All members of our community can join the conversation by sending statements of support and letting key decision-makers know that MIT cares about this issue.
This piece was co-written by some of the student leaders advocating for gender-neutral housing on campus. They live in several different dorms and include Jean Bauer, Matthew Davis, Margaret Lattanzi-Silveus, Eli Sadovnick, Lily Seropian, and Phoebe Whitwell. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.