CMC Students Question Lack of Gender-Neutral Housing Option

To the disappointment of students who supported a plan to incorporate gender-neutral housing for the 2013-2014 school year, this year’s room draw at Claremont McKenna College did not include a gender-neutral option. However, the college may have a different plan to make gender-neutral housing available. 

Last year, the Residential Life Committee (RLC) submitted a proposal to the Dean of Students Office that would eliminate gender restrictions for rooms in mixed-gender floors and residence halls where both male and female bathrooms are available. It would apply to floors in Marks and Stark Halls and all of Beckett and Claremont Halls. Currently, CMC students are not allowed to live in a double with a student of a different gender, even on mixed-gender floors.

“We received, initially, very favorable feedback from the Dean of Students Office,” said Miles Lifson CM ’13, an RLC member who began working with the Dean of Students in 2010 to develop a plan for gender-neutral housing. 

The Student Senate of the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC), ASCMC Board of Directors, and Resident Advisers all expressed support for the plan.

However, Lifson said, students did not hear back as to whether the proposal would be implemented.

Lifson said he asked Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Eric Vos about the proposal several times throughout this school year, and Vos asked Lifson to talk to him closer to room draw.

When the 2013 room draw information was sent to the CMC student body and did not include any gender-neutral housing option, Lifson asked Vos why.

“He said it was a deliberate decision not to include that as part of next year’s housing,” Lifson said, but Vos did not offer an explanation.

On Monday, Senate unanimously voted to confirm its support for the proposal, express disappointment that the school did not implement a gender-neutral option for the 2013-2014 school year, and ask Vos to explain to Senate why the school did not implement it.

“Senate thought this was an important issue to take a unified stance on because for the past three years students have worked very hard to advocate for gender-neutral housing, and yet nothing has been implemented,” wrote Madeline Hall CM ’14, ASCMC Vice President and the leader of Senate, in an e-mail to TSL

Hall wrote that she was contacting Vos about Monday’s resolution and hopes that he will come talk to Senate in the next few weeks.

However, according to Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Max Benavidez, CMC may have a different plan in mind in terms of gender-neutral accommodations. 

“CMC is supportive of gender-neutral housing and wants to implement it when there are adequate restroom facilities in place,” Benavidez wrote in an e-mail to TSL.

He wrote that the school has been discussing gender-neutral housing with students and the Board of Trustees for several years.

“We are considering piloting gender-neutral housing in the newly-renovated residence halls at next year’s room draw,” he wrote. 

The renovated halls in CMC’s Mid Quad will include gender-neutral bathrooms during the 2013-2014 school year, which Vice President for Student Affairs Jeff Huang confirmed at an April 1 Senate meeting, according to the CMC Forum

“We deliberately designed the restrooms in the Mid Quad renovations to support gender-neutral housing in terms of the privacy that is afforded,” Benavidez wrote. 

Steven Limandibhratha CM ’14, a member of the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees, attended a meeting where bathroom design for Mid Quad restrooms was discussed. 

“The main framework was that you’re in a bathroom, you use the urinal, you use the shower, and essentially you can’t tell who’s inside,” he said. “It would be fully, top to bottom, closed-door.” 

Lifson said that he had not previously heard that CMC was considering making Mid Quad gender-neutral for the 2014-2015 school year, although he prefers what the proposal submitted by the RLC outlines over the idea of designating Mid Quad residence halls as gender-neutral. 

He said that designating residence halls in a specific area of campus as gender-neutral is “unfairly limiting for students and could possibly create a stigmatizing effect.” 

Since the RLC’s proposal allows students to live in gender-neutral rooms in several floors and residence halls throughout campus, it gives students more flexibility, he said. 

The memo outlining the RLC’s proposal reads, “We also wanted to design a policy that permits gender-neutral housing, but does not stigmatize students who select it, or place undue burdens upon them … Instituting gender-neutral housing in already mixed gender floors and dorm sections offers a wide variety of choices to students in terms of living accommodations, dorm desirability, and the availability of substance-free living.” 

CMC remains the only co-ed college at the 5Cs that does not offer gender-neutral housing. More than 100 colleges and universities offer a gender-neutral housing option, according to an article published in February 2012 in the Daily Texan

In an e-mail he sent to TSL in November 2011, Vos wrote, “I do consider CMC to be somewhat ‘behind the times’ in terms of at least considering gender-neutral housing.”

A major rationale for gender-neutral housing, according to the RLC’s memo, is that it would help address heteronormative assumptions of gendered housing.

The memo reads, “With less rigid social divisions between genders and increasing numbers of openly gay students, a policy that rejects the possibility of non-romantic cohabitation and assumes universal heterosexuality is increasingly becoming an obstacle to offering students housing options that meet their needs.”

Gender-neutral housing could also offer more comfortable living arrangements for transgender and genderqueer students. 

“I think it comes down to student choice,” Lifson said. “The current restrictions on gendered roommates are really unnecessary.”