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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Editorial - Gender-neutral housing

In the midst of a campaign season, woefully managed at best and shockingly incompetent at worst, the SGA managed to pass a piece of legislation long overdue on this campus — a resolution to support gender-neutral housing. The Administration should quickly sign onto this piece of legislation or risk falling behind the national trend.

At stake is the freedom of students to select where and with whom they wish to live. In the past few years, the Administration acknowledged the rights of students to pick where they live by opening the housing process to juniors and seniors, enabling them to live with friends from any commons. However, the freedom to pick the gender of ones’ roommates remains elusive.

In refusing to allow students the opportunity to live with whomever they choose, the College ignores a national trend. Renowned institutions like Dartmouth College, Wesleyan University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, Brown University and Stanford University recognized the rights of students to gender-neutral housing over the past decade. Among Vermont schools, Bennington School and Green Mountain College have both offered similar housing options to students.

Fifty years ago, the idea of having men and women living together in the same room would have been ludicrous. Fifty years ago, men had to sign in with a desk monitor in order to visit female friends. Doors remained open and hall monitors patrolled the halls. But we are not living fifty years ago. As terms like ‘transgender’ enter our cultural vocabulary, and gender itself becomes an increasingly flexible concept, we must work to accommodate students of all types.

The time has come change. At its recent meeting, the SGA unamimously passed a resolution approving this initiative and the Facebook group recently established to garner support for the cause already has almost 400 members. Both these actions have shown conclusively that students are ready for more housing options — we are ready to be treated like adults and given the responsibilty to make informed decisions about with whom we live. In offering more options, the Administration need not switch completely to this gender-neutral model. Rather, the College could launch an experimental program for a small group of interested students or open certain dormitories or room types — start with two room doubles as Atwater Commons has already done for its sophomores.

Through this experiment, nagging concerns about this style of housing could be answered with concrete evidence instead of idle speculation. Fears about torrid romantic entanglements and unnecessary distractions would be assuaged through trial and error. In this way, the College could determine whether gender-neutral housing would benefit the community in the long-term, while also listening to the desires of students.

During this past year, editorials and news in this newspaper have tracked the College’s attempts to distance itself from peer institutions and create an unique image. In the case of the gender-neutral housing, however, Middlebury lags behind. We must catch up before we can continue to establish ourself as a distinctive institution.