Limited top-optionality practices to be allowed in Random, EC

Wells: December 2020 policy announcement ‘failed trans and LGBTQ students’

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Limited top-optionality practices will be permitted in Random and East Campus after the pandemic emergency ends.
Joanna Lin — The Tech

Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson, on behalf of Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen, and herself, wrote in an email to The Tech that they “have decided to allow limited top-optionality practices from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. when most staff are not working.”

They previously announced the decision to prohibit top and full clothing optionality, except for “a limited number of clothing-optional events,” in a December 2020 email to the Random Hall and East Campus communities.

Nelson wrote in her email to The Tech that she, Barnhart, and Allen “unequivocally support gender equity and the needs of non-binary and trans students” and “agree with students that this issue is as important as the need to create a welcoming and safe environment for staff or other community members.”

They added that other restrictions still exist, such as top-optionality being limited to EC and Random and being placed “on hold until after the pandemic emergency ends.”

Students “believed they would be able to implement top-optionality if given the opportunity, while still providing a welcoming environment for staff,” Nelson wrote.

Students had expressed disappointment with the December 2020 policy announcement and have spoken out in favor of clothing optionality.

Sophia Diggs-Galligan ’22 said in an interview with The Tech that “clothing optionality is not the addition of something; it’s the absence of bodies being policed.”

Ether Bezugla ’22 said in an interview with The Tech that they were “attracted to MIT by the culture that forms around clothing optionality.”

Tesla Wells G said in an interview with The Tech that the December 2020 policy announcement had “failed trans and LGBTQ students” and noted that MIT makes logistical accommodations to prevent staff from encountering nudity in spaces such as locker rooms.

Senior Associate Dean of Residential Education Judy Robinson and Senior Associate Dean of Housing and Residential Services David Friedrich wrote in an email November 2019 to EC residents that they “received reports of two separate incidents involving nudity in front of MIT workers that may have violated Institute policy.”

These incidents led to a moratorium on clothing optionality announced Feb. 5, 2020. The Student Policy Review Committee (SPRC) was then formed to make a recommendation on clothing optionality, with the moratorium to remain in place until SPRC concluded its review and made a policy recommendation.

MIT’s policy since 2018 had allowed top and full clothing optionality on various floors of EC and Random outside of working hours.

The SPRC report concluded that while “current clothing optionality practices provide students with safe and comfortable living communities for those that opt-in,” “employees who work in residence halls that practice clothing optionality do not have a safe and comfortable work environment.”

The SPRC presented three options: the continuation of top and full clothing optionality with parameters, the cessation of clothing optionality practices, or the allowance of top-optionality only.

The SPRC recommended top-optionality as a “compromised measure” that “can promote a safer environment for staff” and the continuation of “consensual opt-in events” involving clothing optionality.

The December 2020 email stated that the SPRC recommendation to permit toplessness was not accepted because “it does not meet MIT’s obligation by law to provide a safe and welcoming workplace and living environment for students, faculty, staff, and contractors” and stated that MIT “cannot let the current status quo continue.”

The email noted that the timing of this announcement was “not ideal” but that the pandemic had delayed decision-making and given students one-day notice of a Zoom meeting that would allow them to speak with administrators and share their concerns.

Nelson wrote in her email to The Tech that she, Barnhart, and Allen “decided to support the SPRC recommendation” after they “reflected” on the conversation with EC and Random students and had “further conversations in late December and January with the communities’ house teams and student leaders.”

Editor’s Note: Ether Bezugla was a staff photographer for The Tech.