A House Divided

College Housing’s well-intentioned plan to degender bathrooms might actually hinder inclusivity.

By Soulet Ali

College Housing has often hindered the quality of life for students living on campus, which perhaps partly explains the high percentage of students who opt to move off campus after their first and second years. This past week, College Housing attempted to respond to student concerns, publicizing plans to offer one male, one female, and one gender-neutral bathroom in 37 of the 38 houses for future school years. Expressed as an attempt to “create and sustain a residential living environment that supports and values all members of our communities,” these recently revealed plans are a welcome step forward. I applaud Housing for its well-intended move to foster an inclusive atmosphere, in order to support the heterogeneous campus community. However, the execution of this plan shows poor delegation of resources and further reflects the consistently fraught relationship Housing maintains with Resident Heads and Resident Assistants.  

While this is seemingly a positive change for students, Housing has disregarded a number of issues that residential students will face on campus due to its very general sweep of how the bathrooms and floors will correspond. Now, regardless of what each house wants, there will necessarily be two rigidly gendered bathrooms in each house according to the stipulations clarified in Housing’s recent e-mail. Many houses this year have opted to de-gender many, or even all, of their bathrooms, whereas under these new provisions, such an inclusive move would be made impossible. As the e-mail clarifies, “There will no longer be a need for students to vote on bathroom designations.”  

Now, students that identify as gender-nonconforming may often be forced to travel multiple flights of stairs to use the bathroom of their choosing. This seemingly common-sense solution from Housing could actually impact gender-nonconforming students disproportionately, ultimately revealing Housing's efforts as simplistic and perfunctory. 

In the e-mail sent to members of the College, Housing also mentions its correspondence to the Resident Heads and Resident Assistants, clarifying that “College Housing & Residential Services also sought guidance from Resident Heads and Resident Assistants.” Because of their close connection to students, Resident Heads and Assistants frequently are able to provide information and suggestions conducive to improving the quality of life for the students they live among. However, Housing tends to place little importance on these recommendations in reality.

It would better serve students if Housing were to delegate bathroom plans to the Resident Heads, so that students have more license over their preferences and inclusivity can also be maintained. Not only would this provide a better living environment for the students, but it could potentially help increase the retention rate of upperclassmen as residential students, supposedly one of Housing’s primary goals. Too often, Housing seems to be set on ignoring the significant feedback that Resident Heads and Resident Assistants offer, ultimately culminating in confusing policies that turn students away from Housing. While immediately appealing, in their guarantee of one gender-neutral bathroom in each house, these plans nevertheless reflect a broader trend of Housing offering heavy-handed solutions to nuanced problems.

Soulet Ali is a first-year in the College.