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Toward a pervasive gender neutrality

James May

Last week, the Voice published an important article about the efforts of WGSS Department faculty and students to convert certain campus restrooms into all-gender restrooms, usable by people of any and all gender identities. These plans, if successfully executed, would be a huge step forward in the College’s efforts to grow as an institution inclusive and supportive of all gender expressions.

Yet the forward-thinking message of the article was punctuated by examples of the administration resisting a full embrace of all-gender inclusion policies across campus. Official efforts to introduce all-gender restrooms to residence halls (and personal student attempts to do so) have been, apparently, met with wariness or abject disagreement.

Why is this the case? As an institution, the College currently has extremely limited gender confines on campus, most egregiously in residence halls. We operate under a black-and-white system of gender inclusivity. Traditional gender identities dominate room assignments and are contrasted only by a gender-neutral living option, the only nominally-declared safe living space for all genders on campus. There is so much grey area the College does not explore that could easily be acted upon by administration, should they actually want to break down some of the gendered barriers of the school.

For example, Douglass Hall this year inadvertently became a co-ed (not all-gender) living space, following last year’s smallish housing fiasco of finding room for seniors who applied for singles and sophomores, whom Residence Life assigned last. Yet this “accident” has worked out brilliantly; with Douglass’s set up, each floor has one bathroom of a traditional gender assignment without demanding entire gendered hallways. A complete embracing of all-gender friendly spaces on campus? Not at all — but it’s a far step beyond Res Life’s constant attempts to cram students into specific, pre-ordained “Male/Female” hallways.

Similarly, Res Life is forced to act under a policy of keeping program houses gendered regarding room assignments. Frankly, this is absurd; if a group of students has agreed to share a communal living space (which includes restrooms, an apparent sticking point for many of these issues), the decision to live in rooms with one or many gender identities should be left to the students, and should not be ordained by an ineffective policy.

Practically, expanding the College’s scope of potential living options would be hugely beneficial to the room assignment process, and there are so many options to explore beyond our current, rigid system. All (or most) hallways could be open to all students, rather than leaving housing to tricky logistics of slotting students into traditionally gendered hallways or rooms. We could specify applications for traditionally gendered and co-ed hallways alongside all-gender hallways. We could make “experimental” spaces where residents collectively decide on the gender (or lack thereof) of their building’s restrooms, or we could ensure that every building has at least one all-gender restroom.

Obviously none of these are easy solutions to achieve — especially given the ambiguity (from an outside perspective) of who exactly is enforcing these gender policies –— but embracing alternative gender-assignments for residence halls could be hugely beneficial both as a practical housing solution and, more importantly, as an effort to enact intentional efforts confronting the systematic gender discrimination on our campus.

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