Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Residential Life announces gender-neutral dorm option

<rch for next year’s roommate may be stressful, but a policy that will be released this Tuesday by Residential Life will lift one of the foremost constraints on finding that perfect roommate: gender.

The 2008-09 gender-neutral dorm policy “takes the next logical step” in the current co-ed housing arrangements available in the townhouses and Sevy dorms, according to the Director of Residential Life, Steve Wisener. The policy now applies the mixed-gender policy to all seeking this option by creating a certain number of dorms—traditionally assigned as “male” or “female”—as unmarked or “swing” dorms, with no set sex regulations for whom can live there.

On a typical floor, for example, half of the rooms are predetermined as “male,” and the other half as “female” dorms. Next year, however, a portion of these rooms will be without the “male” or “female” designation. In other words, they will be “gender-neutral.” The number of these co-ed or “gender-neutral” dorms is yet to be determined, but will reflect whatever demand students have for seeking mixed-gender rooms. “It all depends on what people want—everyone could do it, or no one could do it. We have the flexibility to re-assign rooms as male or female depending on the demand,” said Wisener.

“We want to give students as many choices as possible—either about space or whom they can live with,” said Wisener. “Additionally, people should be living with whom they are comfortable.”

Wisener elaborated that the policy, which integrates the gender-neutral dorms on primarily single-sex-room floors, was “a more proactive step” than creating an entirely new policy, and works by expanding and revising the current policy to provide for more choices. “Our goal every year is to evolve the entire process,” he said, adding that “nowhere in the original policy does it say that men and women cannot be living together.”

Kaaren Williamsen-Garvey, Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC), explained that having the co-ed rooms scattered throughout the floors, rather than concentrated on one floor or dorm is “better in line with Carleton’s other Res. Life policies.” She added that it “really does work better for the way we do housing here, and matches what we’re already doing in terms of not having certain types of dorms, such as first-year dorms, isolated.”

Additionally, Williamsen-Garvey said that the other schools researched had starting doing all mixed-gender housing on one floor, but “felt like it really isolated the students.” Most schools, she explained, have now changed to spreading out the gender-neutral housing.

The new policy began with a GSC Task Force in 2003 that proposed the idea. “We thought it had some merit,” said Wisener, and at the time the office was “combing through the room draw policy.”

The new policy follows previous decisions to make the town houses co-ed and to expand the rule to Sevy, both of which “went really well,” according to Wisener. From this success, the gender-neutral dorm option followed to expand students’ choices.

Throughout the process, Wisener said he has worked closely with Williamsen-Garvey, both with the original proposal that was connected with the GSC and on consulting about the policy for next year. “I talk with Kaaren [Williamsen-Garvey] about the details and the wording, making sure that the policy was still including everything that needed to be included.”

Williamsen-Garvey has “talked to lots of students through the GSC over the years about the housing policy,” she said, and the GSC “became a sort of partner in continuing these conversations with Res. Life.”

The conversations centered on how students were not comfortable with their current living arrangement, as well noting the significance of how gender-neutral housing has worked at other schools.

Students such as Matt Cole ‘09 are to be affected by the impending policy. Cole, who lived in a mixed-gender triple in Sevy this year under this year’s expanded policy, plans to draw into a quint next year with four friends—two male, two female—but the future roommates were afraid of facing opposition from Res. Life.

But with the new policy soon to be in place, Cole said that he was “really happy, because we can get what we want and we won’t have to beg and plead with Res Life for it.”
He added that this policy “looks like a much more reasonable policy than before.”

Some people, however, do have some minor concerns, according to Wisener, but he added that “change is always difficult for people at first.”

“It was a big step to Carleton to go co-ed at first, too,” he said.

Wisener said that at many schools with similar gender-neutral housing options there have been complaints that couples may start moving in together.

Regarding this fear, Wisener said, “I would hope that most people wouldn’t look at it as a chance to live with a significant other. But to me that’s no different than a close friendship ending between roommates.”

Furthermore, the original gender-neutral housing proposal from the GSC, written by Ben Egerman ’08 and Jedda Foreman ’08, underlines the heterosexist nature of such complaints, which assume that no two people of the same gender have long-term relationships with one another.

Wisener concluded that the new policy “is not a hard one to comply with: any student who wants a co-ed dorm should be able to get one,” and said that he was “excited and looking forward to it.”

“It’s a simple change—just adding another type of room designation,” added Williamsen-Garvey, but one with important consequences in the comfort of students. “What works for the majority doesn’t work for everybody,” she said.

Williamsen-Garvey added that “most people won’t notice much. But for the people who it’s important to, it will make a world of difference.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *