The ultramodern Kravis Center’s smooth, burnt-crimson walls and LEED Silver/Gold certification attest to Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) dedication to the contemporary. But in offering gender-neutral housing options for its students, CMC has found itself behind the three other co-ed undergraduate colleges in Claremont and most other liberal arts colleges in the nation.
“It was clear to us that the current policy doesn’t offer a full array of options to the LGBTQ community,” CMC Residential Life Committee (RLC) member Miles Lifson CM ‘13 wrote in an e-mail to The Student Life. “Providing LGBTQ students, along with everyone else, a fuller set of housing options was the goal of our proposal.”
During the fall semester of last year, Lifson, who is largely spearheading the proposal, and other members of RLC issued a two-part proposal that would allow students to choose their roommates regardless of gender in several of CMC’s residence halls, and would designate two gender-neutral bathrooms in Claremont Hall. If passed by the CMC Board of Trustees next semester, the proposal will change a housing policy at CMC that has been in effect since 1946.
Currently, CMC residence halls Auen, Berger, Benson, Phillips, and Fawcett, as well as the first floors of Stark and Marks residence halls, are designated male-only or female-only. Other buildings, including Beckett and Claremont, as well as the second and third floors of Stark and the second and third floors of Marks, allow men and women to inhabit the same floor, but not the same rooms.
“The first proposal would lift all restrictions on roommate gender for multi-occupant rooms on mixed-gender floors,” Lifson wrote. “Returning students could opt to live with a roommate of whatever gender they wish, but would have to voluntarily self-select such an arrangement.”
The second part of the proposal, which will be voted on independently of the first part, would designate two gender-neutral bathrooms in Claremont Hall, which is currently entirely gender-mixed with one male and one female bathroom at each end. If this part of the proposal is passed, the residence hall will have male-only rooms at one end and female-only rooms at the other, with gender-mixed rooms in the middle. The two bathrooms on the male end will become male-only and gender-neutral, and the bathrooms on the female end will be female and gender-neutral.
CMC Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Eric Vos echoed Lifson’s concern that the school’s current housing situation may not accommodate some LGBTQ students, who under the current policy are required to live with a roommate whose personal understanding of their gender identity may not coincide with their own. Also, the other three co-ed schools at the Claremont Colleges, i.e. Pitzer College, Pomona College, and Harvey Mudd College, adopted gender-neutral housing several years ago, leaving some students and faculty wondering why CMC has not yet followed suit.
“This movement reflects the same rationale that the other colleges have utilized: providing housing spaces that are gender-neutral would provide comfortable and welcoming environments for [LGBTQ] and gender-nonconforming students,” Vos wrote. “I do consider CMC to be somewhat ‘behind the times,’ in terms of at least considering [this issue].”
Lifson added that the school’s archaic housing policy may dissuade some potential applicants from considering CMC.
“The current policy drives away prospective students,” he wrote. “CMC is losing qualified applications to the other leading liberal arts colleges.”
Lifson and others members of RLC are currently making final changes to the proposal, which will then be sent to administrators and the Board of Trustees for approval. Lifson said he was hopeful that both proposals would pass.
“We’re optimistic about the proposal’s chances of passing,” he wrote. “We’ve encountered nothing but support from the student body and Dean of Students Office. We hope to have resolutions of support from both the Student Senate and the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College Executive Board before the proposal goes to the Board of Trustees.”
Vos recognized the broad support that the proposal has received, but he said it could face opposition.
“Gender-neutral housing could certainly be contentious with some administrators or board members,” he wrote.
Debates over gender-neutral housing have taken place at CMC in the past. Several years ago, a proposal to designate the school’s Senior Apartments as such was passed by the Board of Trustees after an initial rejection.
“CMC is moving in the right direction,” Lifson wrote. “If the proposal fails, we’ll try again the following year. It will pass.”