Gender-neutral a clear positiveBeginning with the Class of 2018, freshmen on East Campus will have the option to live in gender-neutral housing. The new gender-neutral housing policy will allow students of the opposite sex to live in the same dorm room and use unisex bathrooms. The announcement of this change followed similar policy changes that established gender-neutral housing options for Central and West Campuses.
Extending gender-neutral housing to East Campus is, without a doubt, a progressive and commendable move. The Editorial Board has long endorsed policies that offer students the option of gender-neutral housing, citing the importance for Duke to remain inclusive and tolerant of all types of students and living preferences. Gender neutrality continues to vex some, but such an attitude is tired, antiquated and unrepresentative of Duke’s increasingly diverse student body. Expanding gender-neutral housing to East Campus is a laudable step that reaffirms Duke’s commitment to inclusivity.
Allowing freshmen to opt into gender-neutral housing is consistent with the current gender-neutral housing options on Central and West Campuses. In our view, freshmen should have the same freedom to choose gender-neutral housing afforded to upperclassmen. Although first-year housing differs in many ways from upperclassman housing, students should not be excluded from a full range of housing options simply because of their class year.
Indeed, gender-neutral housing on East Campus is particularly important. Freshmen enter Duke as blank slates and ought to have access to a wide range of perspectives, identities and living arrangements. Free from the group identities, biases and cynicism that one inevitably accrues as he or she passes through Duke, freshmen benefit immensely from exposure to policies and practices that encourage tolerance and respect difference. The Class of 2018 will enter Duke with gender-neutral housing options as the norm, rather than the exception.
Offering gender-neutral housing on all three campuses also reflects Duke’s enlightened stance on LGBTQ issues. Duke’s progressive approach to these issues is especially notable given that The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors recently banned gender-neutral housing at UNC, overturning a previous resolution that would have allowed the option. In countering this trend of social conservatism and narrow-mindedness, Duke stands as a praiseworthy advocate for inclusivity and progressivism in North Carolina.
Although we endorse gender-neutral housing and agree wholeheartedly with its justifications, some concerns about the implementation of the policy on East Campus have been left unresolved. Will students who participate in FOCUS programs be precluded from opting into gender-neutral housing? In rare cases, would the administration find itself forced to pair students who had opted into gender-neutral with those who had not in order to fill up dormitory space?
These questions are important, but not unique to gender-neutral housing. Wellness and Arts dorms on East Campus often face issues relating to living preference and roommate pairing. The administration will have to work out these details going forward, and, perhaps, its commitment to gender-neutral housing will allow it to find solutions to some of the other logistical problems with housing. Expanding gender-neutral housing options is more than just a matter of obligation—it is a long-awaited step towards making Duke a welcoming place for all.