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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Gender-Neutral Housing

<t does Crack House have in common with the Nunnery? Nothing.  And yet, Carleton students have the freedom to live in both places, and it seems to be this freedom of choice that makes Carls happy. Some students prefer quiet or substance-free floors, and some prefer floors or houses buzzing with activity.

But it was not always this way, especially with regard to gender separation.

The initial swoop of male and female students swapping floors to create co-ed dorms happened around Valentine’s Day of 1970. Students were happy about the change and thought of it as a natural development, but the administration was less than cooperative.

In April of 1969, The Carletonian was busy discussing the administration’s frustrating attitude and President Nason’s “obstructionist tactics.” Indeed, difficulties with the administration are an age-old phenomenon we face here at Carleton—and arguably, on all college campuses—and thus, while co-ed housing may sound like a no-brainer now, it took considerable time before Carls could live where they wanted, with whomever they wanted.  

The gender-neutral dorm policy began in 2008, and ever since, students have been using the policy to expand their potential roommate situations. For one, the ability to live in any building across campus, so long as it is designated gender-neutral, enables LGBT students to create a rooming situation they are more comfortable with than one confined by the rules of traditional single-sex housing. Male and female friends, as well as mixed-gender friend groups, also increasingly choosing to live together—and not just in quints or in houses, but also in standard dorm rooms.

A mixed-gender group of students rooming together this year, who preferred to remain anonymous, shared their thoughts on the matter.

One student commented, “The room situation has worked out wonderfully. I think that a respectful and safe roommate relationship can easily exist between guys and girls. Any decision regarding rooming requires thoughtful consideration, no matter whether it is coed or not. As long as there is open communication prior to choosing a room and throughout the year, I think it can be a great option for anyone.” 

The co-ed rooming situation brings up powerful issues about cultural expectations of behavior between men and women.  Another student addressed the kinds of norms that co-ed rooming challenges: “When we told people that we were living with a guy, one of the reactions that we got was that there would be issues because an awkward situation was bound to come up with a straight guy and two girls living and changing clothing in the same room.

“I think this attitude shows a kind of offensive oversimplification of male- female relationships. I think it’s great that the college recognizes that mandatory separation of genders is arbitrary when people and gender are so complex.” 

These students believe the progression of college housing towards gender-neutral rooming is “a very positive thing for a college environment.”  They also feel their own room situation is so successful because they were close friends before making this step.

On the other hand, with the increasing popularity of living in mixed gender rooms, some students may wonder why someone might choose to live on an all-female floor.

Indeed, stereotypes exist on both sides of the spectrum, and many students have pre-conceptions that girls live on single-sex floors to be isolated from boys, or mistakenly think that the Nunnery is duller than other floors – an outdated remnant of the gender- segregated campus of the pre-1970s Carleton.

I spoke to Emily Balczewski ’16, who lived in the Nunnery, about life on the floor. The all-female aspect was not what made her decide to live there. Rather, she liked the room and the great location. 

“It’s a really good atmosphere, fairly small and quiet, and there is usually at least one guy in the lounge,” said Emily.  “The floor is making an honorary nun board, for the guys that hang out here.” 

The slightly quieter and cleaner quality of the floor appeals to some students more than the rowdier co-ed floors and houses on campus. Balczewski said she would absolutely live there again, and thinks some students around campus might not know how friendly and enjoyable the Nunnery is. 

That more students are opting for gender-neutral situationS does not appear to be diminishing the popularity of the Nunnery; both phenomena, it seems, are functions of the increased variety of housing options, and students’ desire to find a satisfying living situation.

Carleton has come a long way since women lived on the East side and the men on the West side, but the variety of people who live together on a floor or in a house still seems to be important. In the past forty years, it appears gender has diminished as the unifying link between roommates and housemates. In its place, we see communities forming based on friendships and common interests, and these links are ultimately creating floors and environments where students can maintain the lifestyles they desire, regardless of their gender.

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