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Clarify the gender-neutral policy

Responding to a proposal forwarded by Duke Students for Gender-Neutrality, Duke’s administration committed last year to accommodating gender-neutral housing on campus for the 2013-2014 academic year. Duke Student Government has recently crafted an updated proposal that fleshes out the details for implementing gender-neutral housing and calls for the administration to make as much of Duke’s campus able to accommodate gender-neutral housing as possible. We support DSG’s proposal and agree with its underlying contention that expanding gender-neutral housing remains incredibly important in promoting equity on campus.

To qualify as gender-neutral, a house must allow same-sex roommate pairs and maintain two single-sex bathrooms and one gender-neutral bathroom. According to the proposal, both selective and unaffiliated houses will be able to choose whether or not to become gender-neutral in the first year. Once houses have established themselves as open to gender-neutral living arrangements, students who plan to enter unaffiliated houses can opt into or out of gender-neutral housing for the next academic year. Requesting gender-neutral housing will override all other housing preferences, providing a disincentive for students to opt into gender-neutral housing simply to increase their chances of living in a more desirable location.

Although DSG has developed a thoughtful proposal to expand gender-neutral housing across campus, it should consider several potential complications in order to ensure that the university can implement gender-neutral housing in an efficient and equitable way.

The current proposal would allow each unaffiliated house to determine its own process for voting on gender-neutrality in the first year. Although we believe that all houses ought to enjoy considerable autonomy, it is important that a house’s decision about gender-neutrality does not disenfranchise any of its members, and we advocate for a voting model in which one dissenting vote prevents a house from becoming gender-neutral. This would mirror the current process for unlocking dormitory bathrooms, and we believe a uniform and strict voting process would ensure that all members of a house can remain comfortable with their living situation.

If, as outlined in the current proposal, houses retain the option to determine their own voting structure, we consider it crucial that all members have the opportunity to opt out in the event that their house votes for gender-neutral housing. Moreover, though we do not anticipate many students to opt out of gender-neutrality, the university should allocate housing for students opposed to living in gender-neutral houses.

DSG’s proposal assumes that first-year students will fill out housing preferences accurately—fully aware of the consequences of either selecting or not selecting gender-neutral housing—and that their sentiments will not change over the course of the year. Although these assumptions seem reasonable, the DSG proposal should include provisions for dealing with complications if they arise.

This proposal comes at an opportune time, given University plans to renovate several dorms on West Campus, and we commend both DSG and Duke Students for Gender-Neutrality for committing significant time and effort to this important issue. DSG has drafted a plan that, once the authors work out some of the kinks, will likely result in policies that will create a more tolerant and accommodating campus.

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