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Phase in gender-neutral housing

When it comes to the issue of gender-neutral housing, it is time for Duke to follow suit with its peer institutions.

Last week, Yale University became the last Ivy League school to adopt some form of gender-neutral housing for its students. Yale’s program, which will be piloted during the 2010-2011 school year, will allow seniors to live in mixed-gender suites but not mixed-gender bedrooms.

At Duke, the conversation about gender-neutral housing has been quiet since Fall 2007 when the University was forced to create several gender-neutral bathrooms on West Campus to accommodate transgender students. But as the University actively reconsiders its housing model and finalizes plans for a new residence hall, gender-neutral housing must be carefully considered.

The question of permitting gender-neutral housing on campus is fundamentally an issue of student choice. Students are mature young adults and deserve the right to choose their roommate without regard to gender. While it is unlikely that many students would desire to live with a member of the opposite sex, there is not reason to preclude them from doing so.

In this vein, gender-neutral housing is also an important issue for accommodating and upholding the rights of LGBT students. Duke’s single-sex housing system creates uncomfortable situations for transgender students, and instituting some form of gender-neutral housing would provide a simple solution to this serious problem.

Moral objections to roommate pairs of opposite sexes are off-base. The University is a pluralistic community, and individual value systems must not impinge on the rights and needs of students. This argument is also discredited by that fact that the policy would be opt-in only, so it will have no direct affect on those who object to it.

Critics who assert that gender-neutral housing would be disruptive to existing housing patterns and heighten roommate conflict are similarly unfounded. Students are generally well-informed and rational when choosing a roommate, and conflicts are possible in any roommate pairing—even between best friends of the same sex.

Moreover, very few seniors in relationships currently live with their significant other in off-campus apartments, and it is hard to imagine that, on campus, this would become a popular trend. This is no reason to rule out gender-neutral housing.

This Wednesday, the Duke Student Government Senate will discuss the possibility of bringing gender-neutral housing to campus. Senators should commit to work with Residence Life and Housing Services and Campus Council to create a gender-neutral pilot program on West and Central Campuses for the 2011-2012 academic year.

On Central, mixed-gender roommate pairs should be able to participate in Room Pix and select any apartment. On West, select hallways in several quadrangles should be designated for the pilot, and their bathrooms should simply be converted from single-sex to gender-neutral.

After evaluating a pilot program on West and Central, then students and administrators could consider bringing the policy to East Campus.

Gender-neutral housing can improve the quality of life for a select number of students, and it can easily be implemented. There is no reason for Duke to shy away from this important cause.

Michelle Sohn recused herself from this editorial due to her involvement with a proposal for gender-neutral housing on campus.


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