A Progressive Dialogue: Gender-Neutral Housing,
A Close Look at the Significance of Gender-Neutral Housing on Harvard's Campus
Some aspects of college influence students’ lives beyond the doors of the classroom; one such feature is housing. Harvard gives its students a choice, for three of their four years, to “block,” or pick, with up to eight other students they want to live with. But that ostensible freedom comes with many caveats: perhaps most strikingly, students are not allowed to room with students of the opposite gender. I believe this is wrong. Students should be given the choice to choose who their roommates are, regardless of gender.
In 1970, Harvard obligated itself to making sure that there was gender integration of the Houses. Given Harvard’s liberal bend, we would expect all the Houses to have gone through this process. But it has been 43 years and that obligation still has yet to be fulfilled.
Harvard’s policy states that there are “circumstances in which it would be appropriate” to consider mixed-gender rooming arrangements. The Office of Student Life does, in cooperation with the Houses, accommodate students with gender-based needs, such as transgender students. Yet the administration need not limit itself to transgender students; it should make such an option available to all students.
The perils of not allowing students to make their own choices is something that acts against the liberal ideology of Harvard. But the impacts are not limited to the campus; other universities, like Yale, have much more developed gender-neutral housing system.
What this insinuates is that if Harvard does not implement this policy, it may fall behind other institutions of higher learning in progressivism and giving its students the choice to do what they think is in their own best interest. Harvard is an institution that others emulate. It is a model of the evolving standards of education and the college experience. Its progressivism has led it to become one of the most diverse schools in the country, racially and economically. Progressivism centers on the needs, experiences, interests, and abilities of students that are fundamental to their education.
For many students, it is about comfort. Some students feel comfortable living with the opposite gender, and if such an issue is in any way affecting the student’s academics or life in general, then the university has some responsibility to address it.
Students generally know what is best for them; they know what will help them optimize their experience at Harvard. They know who will make them feel safe and content. Of course, administrators may counter by asking those students if they think they always make the right choices. However, part of the college experience is learning from one’s mistakes. It is true that gender-neutral housing may cause problems, but that is a kind of risk that students are willing to take. The administrators tend not to know who a student’s best friends are, or who they like spending time with, or even who gives them solace in times of need. Administrators have always stressed that they want to make students’ experience at Harvard the best it can be; by not allowing universal gender-neutral housing, they drift from their goals of doing what is in their power to make students feel at ease in their environment.
Those who are opposed to gender-neutral housing point to ‘distractions’ and ‘breaking of gender decency.’ But the answer lies in the principle that everyone should have the right to make his or her own choices. It is not like those who oppose gender-neutral housing will be forced to live with people of other genders. They still have the choice of living with whom they want to.
Harvard needs to make a move: the right move. Students have been waiting 43 for universal gender-neutral housing. It is time for progress, and progress is something Harvard is very good at making, but sometimes it needs a little push to really get going.
This article represents the sole opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Change-Magazine.