Bhushan Deshpande | Words of Wisdom
Unfair housing policy blocks options
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:10
As I have been reminded these past few weeks by current sophomores and juniors running up and down Medford and Somerville (though never more than a few blocks away from campus), the annual six-month housing rush for next year has started. As much as I would like to, it’s hard to make all of the annoyances of game theory ResLife’s fault.
There are however plenty of problems that ResLife could fix with minimal effort. A not-insubstantial one is gender-neutral housing, or as ResLife calls it, “open housing.”
The concept of gender-neutral housing is very straightforward: Instead of living in a double with someone of the same gender, as most Tufts students do, you live with someone of a different gender.
It is in fact so straightforward that ResLife isn’t confused by any of it. As they themselves state on their website, “open housing is consistent with the University’s non-discrimination policy
[and] provides more comfortable options for the full spectrum of sexuality and gender identity that exist on campus.” It’s not by any means unique to Tufts: “Over fifty of Tufts’ peer institutions currently have some form of open or gender-neutral housing. These include several NESCAC colleges, as well as many other private and public institutions around the country.”
So then why am I writing about it? Because sometimes it seems that all those words are little more than lip service.
Gender-neutral housing is not available for the portion of the student body which needs it most: incoming freshmen, especially gender non-conforming students, who have not had to go through the process of living with a new roommate before. According to the LGBT Center, the only options available for freshmen are to (a) live with someone of the same legal (but not necessarily actual) gender or (b) reveal themselves to the university administration as transgender and request a single.
Both are obviously problematic. Some, though not all, transgender individuals would certainly be uncomfortable with the former option. It is the rare pre-frosh who has contact with anyone in the administration besides Admissions, and I can only imagine how calling up a total stranger to reveal one’s gender identity and asking for special accommodations would be (consider too that many might not have even done this with one’s parents yet). Changing one’s legal identity is even more difficult: only sixteen states allow changing the gender on one’s birth certificate without proof of sex reassignment surgery, and five don’t even allow it after surgery. Additionally, even when gender-neutral housing is theoretically available, it is not always possible to actually obtain it. In its first year, it was available only in one suite in Latin Way, a few in Hillsides and a floor of Bush Hall. If a transgender sophomore wants to live in gender-neutral housing and also with their friends who don’t want to live with opposite gendered roommates, then unless they are really good at working the system, gender-neutral housing fills up before the suite’s lottery and they will be all out of luck.
But the most ridiculous thing is that this doesn’t need to be an issue in the slightest. It would be so trivial to make gender-neutral housing more widely available. If bathrooms are a concern, a huge number of dorms have unisex bathrooms. Certainly it should be a problem with ten person Latin Way suites or four-person Sophia Gordon suites (which are already mostly gender-neutral, though the Latin Way doubles and four-person Latin Way suites are not at all). If we haven’t had any problems with those options, why can’t it extend them for the rest of campus?
One small policy change and a lot of people are helped out. So what’s the problem here?
Bhushan Deshpande is a senior majoring in quantitative economics. He can be reached at Bhushan.Deshpande@tufts.edu.