Gender blind housing policy
I'm going to get right down to business
here. It's spring semester, and that means
room draw. For those of you who have not
really considered the nature of this ritual or
who have yet to experience it, I will outline it.
First, each student must pick his or her poison.
Will I enter my name in the chem-free draw? Dialogue? Regular? Once the student has weighed the options and decided, he or she is randomly assigned a number. The lower numbers get to choose first, starting with the rising senior assigned number 1 and going down through the classes. Each student is also assigned a letter. The letter determines which rooms he or she is eligible to choose from. The floor plans that are spread out on room draw night are labeled with corresponding letters: some are labeled "M," others are labeled "F." While it may not necessarily seem so at first, this policy is discriminatory and quite distressing for certain students.
The obvious inequality of gender quotas in rooming falls on transgendered students--particularly those who identify as "gender queer" or otherwise don't adhere to a binary system of gender. Room draw forces transgender people into a category, requires them to deny the identities they know themselves to be and adopt a false identity that determines what they are and aren't allowed to do. This process denies transgender students the right to be themselves. Colby's non-discrimination policy includes gender identity, but the housing policy fails to live up to this. All gender identities-- not just male and female--must be honored. The housing policy is further troubled by gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexually variant students. I will outline it for you: a lesbian student and her girlfriend are able to live in the same room, regardless of what this may imply. A heterosexual couple, however, must live with at least one locking door between them.
At first glance it seems here that the heterosexual couple is being wronged, denied a "right" that their lesbian friends enjoy. But really what this situation reveals is a set of assumptions and prejudices not only about gays and lesbians but about college students in general. As far as keeping the genders separated in the dorms by a door, I ask, "What's the point?" If they want to, couples will still sleep in the same bed. And if you are worried about a male student taking advantage of his female roommate in her sleep (a fairly absurd suggestion), I wonder why you are not worried about a lesbian student doing the same thing. In order to eliminate this inequality, I would like to propose a "gender-blind" housing policy. This policy would eliminate gender quotas in room draw. Lottery numbers would be assigned without consideration of a student's gender, and students would be able to choose from any unoccupied room when their number is called. Additionally, students would be allowed to choose persons of any gender as a roommate(s). Incoming freshmen would be given the option of gender-blind housing, or they would be able to specify which gender they desire to live with. A long term goal the school should set in order to achieve truly gender-blind, all-inclusive housing is the addition of unisex bathrooms to all of the dormitories, and this should be something that is seriously considered in future renovations.
The effects of a gender-blind housing policy are manifold. First, it would encourage diversity in the student applicant pool. It should not come as a surprise that, as the policy now stands, many transgender students do not even consider Colby as an option when applying to college. Second, it would encourage a candor about sexuality that we all too often do not have in New England. What is it that we are assuming by requiring men and women to live in different rooms?
What does this say about our views of heterosexuality and homosexuality? Third, it would bring people of diverse backgrounds together. We do not require students of different races to live in different rooms, and many students are truly exposed to diversity for the first time when they meet their freshman roommates. Why shouldn't we extend this exposure to include to spectrum of gender that we all navigate?
All of this I ask you to consider, as it may not have crossed your minds. Perhaps those who have a more intimate understanding of the housing policy than I do can begin to take steps towards a gender-blind policy. After all, Colby College, what have we got to lose?