Gender-inclusive policies expanding

Collaborative efforts on campus-wide policy to begin in the Spring

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Infographic by Will Conway, Xin He, and Krithika Swaminathan
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Senior House is one of two dorms that is piloting MIT’s gender-inclusive housing program. There are plans to expand beyond Senior House and Random Hall this coming Spring.
Jeremy E. deGuzman

MIT Residential Life & Dining is planning to initiate gender-inclusive housing policies across campus, expanding upon the implementation of such a policy in Random Hall and Senior House. Students opting for gender-inclusive housing would be able to room with people of different genders and gender identities, which would be ideal for students who have preferences about the gender identities of their roommates.

Prior to the introduction of gender-inclusive housing in Senior and Random, MIT was among the few private institutions that did not offer this housing option.

Though specific policies vary among institutions, all Ivy League schools as well as Stanford have gender-inclusive housing options for upperclassmen; Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, and University of Pennsylvania have gender-inclusive housing available for freshmen as well. Most schools prohibit romantic couples from taking advantage of gender-inclusive housing, while Brown, Columbia, UPenn, and Yale don’t ask questions, though it is generally discouraged. Most institutions require students opting for gender-inclusive housing to choose their roommates beforehand, which is why the option is typically not available to freshmen, but some schools allow random-assignment among students who opt for gender-inclusive housing.

Other schools’ policies are being taken into consideration by Residential Life & Dining while devising MIT’s unique version of gender-inclusive housing policies.

Henry J. Humphreys, senior associate dean of Residential Life & Dining, believes that the implementation of gender-inclusive housing should be a collaborative effort within the MIT community. “It’s important for MIT to develop a system for all students to feel comfortable in housing,” said Humphreys. “The housing office will have to work with the housemasters and rooming chairs in each community.” Humphreys will include the Housing Strategy Group (HSG) — consisting of faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, and staff — in the discussion about gender-inclusive housing options as well.

Humphreys and the Dormitory Council (DormCon) both agree that gender-inclusive housing will require an opt-in — no student will be assigned to room with someone of the opposite gender or of a different gender identity without consent. “Gender-inclusive housing will not be forced upon anyone,” said Eli H. Ross ’14, DormCon president. Ross also adds that conflicts between roommates in gender-inclusive living spaces could be handled in the same manner as any other roommate conflict would be handled within that community.

Cory D. Hernandez ’14 was one of the main advocates for initiating gender-inclusive housing at Senior House. Hernandez conducted a survey that showed that among the 63 percent of Senior House residents who participated, 96 percent voted that gender-inclusive housing should be an option for all residents.

At Senior House, adding the gender-inclusive housing option was as simple as two additional questions on the room assignment survey. The rooming surveys now ask students to name their gender identity and the preferred gender identity of their roommate.

Gender-inclusive housing policies will vary by dorm. “It’s important to establish what communities’ policies are,” said Humphreys. One of the issues he looks to overcome is introducing gender-inclusive housing options in a way that can be confidential for students opting in. “I think that one of the biggest issues is how to help students find this housing without having to out themselves,” said Humphreys.

Humphreys intends to move forward with collaborative efforts regarding gender-inclusive housing at the beginning of the spring semester.