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Monday, Mar 4, 2024


This past week, Middlebury joined Williams and Bowdoin as the third NESCAC institution to enact gender-neutral housing legislation. Starting in Fall 2011, any sophomore, junior or senior will be allowed to live with whomever they choose, regardless of either party’s gender. While College policy already allowed suites and bathrooms to be mixed-gendered, the recently approved proposal expands the policy to include doubles and connected singles. The proposal received unanimous support from the SGA and was approved at the Nov. 22 Community Council meeting, also by a unanimous vote.
While some students might cite the potential conflict that could arise between members of the opposite sex sharing the same living space, and parents might be uneasy about the prospect of their child being forced to live with a student of a different gender, it is important to remember that only students who specifically request a mixed-gendered room will be placed in one. This is an important step toward breaking down the heteronormative attitudes that exist under the surface of our institution and society at large, and achieves the more direct goal of providing a comfortable living situation for every member of our community.

Besides the gender-neutral housing proposal, Community Council also heard, and tabled, a proposal to form an official Gender Council, which would address all issues of gender on campus, report directly to the Presidential Council and have policy-making power. While we are pleased to see that gender issues, often the most pervasive, subtle and overlooked, are receiving the attention that they clearly deserve, we question whether the addition of more red tape is the appropriate way to bring these issues to light at Middlebury.

Giving any committee policy-making power should be a carefully considered and meaningful decision — in this case, we are not sure that the goals of the would-be Gender Council necessitate an autonomous council. After all, the issue of gender-neutral housing was addressed fully and efficiently by the Community Council — it was only last spring that this proposal began taking shape. While subtle instances of sexism can often be the most harmful, they are also uniquely resistant to sweeping policy changes. Thus, we question whether a policy-making committee is the best solution to the problem of sexism at Middlebury.

Closely examining gender dynamics at Middlebury is fascinating, at times horrifying and almost universally undervalued as a legitimate source of frustration and outrage from all sexes. Such examination is also performed far too infrequently, and often takes a backseat to issues of racial diversity and discrimination. We are excited that gender-neutral housing has been approved, and by no means are we attempting to keep gender issues on the back burner by suggesting that a Gender Council would be excessive. Rather, we would simply like to see the cause of gender equality taken up more fully in the actions of already existing councils and committees, such as the Sexual Assault Oversight Committee, or the Institutional Diversity Committee. We feel that the goal of gender equality would be better served by a universal increase in watchfulness and consciousness of the issue, rather than by a single policy-making committee.