All-Gender Housing Expands
This spring, the College made strides toward expanding gender equality in campus housing, first by redistributing the long-fought-for all-gender housing options more widely across campus and then, last week, by passing a Student Senate proposal to move to even greater equality in the long term.
Both steps were the result of student advocacy and collaboration with Senate, student organizations, ResEd and the Housing and Dining Subcommittee.
In 2004, the College designated Noah as what was then called a “gender-neutral” dorm, meaning that students were able to choose their roommates regardless of their sex. “All-gender” has since replaced “gender-neutral” as a more accurate term.
Early this spring semester, students began advocating at a Senate-sponsored forum for more equitable housing options. Recently, Talking Stick cited Oberlin as a college that has been progressive in forwarding all-gender housing. But this spring, there was the sense that, while Oberlin was progressive, it could do more to remain at the forefront of the issue. Many students have advocated making all campus housing all gender, but ResEd said that this would not be an attainable goal in the short-term.
“Compromise was imperative in these issues,” said Molly Tyson, associate dean of Residential Education.
Tyson invited students at a Housing and Dining Subcommittee meeting to work with the committee on a more immediately attainable proposal. Several students — independent individuals and members of the Transgender Advocacy Group, the Edmonia Lewis Center and the Multicultural Resource Center — agreed to do so.
They worked over spring break to create a series of proposals to redistribute the all-gender rooms, currently all in Noah, more evenly across campus. The College eventually accepted the group’s top choice, which will designate all-gender rooms in specific halls in Noah, East, Talcott and South.
“I want to express how thankful I am for Molly Tyson and her willingness to work with us...She was awesome,” said College sophomore Eli Conley, one of the students involved in drafting the proposals.
Michele Gross, director of business operations for ResEd, emphasized that the redistribution involved nearly the same number of all-gender options that were available this year, but provided students with more options for where and in which kind of room to live in.
Students, as always, have the additional all-gender living options of village housing and co-ops. First-years, however, will not have the all-gender option unless they specifically request it, in which case ResEd will work with them on a case an individual basis.
Gross and Tyson also emphasized that the all-gender housing option is opt-in: Students must choose to live there, so there is no danger of unwilling students being placed in an all-gender dorm or hall.
When student senator and College junior Ezra Temko attended the Housing and Dining Subcommittee meeting, where numerous students spoke passionately about the need for all-gender housing, he came up with the idea to have Senate draft a proposal for a more comprehensive, long-term plan. Senate did so, and brought the proposal to the Student Life Committee.
By the time the proposal reached the General Faculty Council, it had been endorsed by 12 campus organizations and departments: Student Life Committee; ResEd; Student Senate and the Transgender Advocacy Group; Housing and Dining Committee; the Multicultural Resource Center; the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People; Lambda Union; Oberlin College Friends of the ACLU; Oberlin Student Co-operative Association Committee on Privilege and Oppression; Queer Peers; and Queer Jews and Allies.
The GFC viewed the proposal favorably and agreed to vote on it at the General Faculty meeting last week. However, when the meeting was cancelled, President Nancy Dye approved the proposal without the formal vote, based on the GFC’s approval.
Based on the passage of the proposal, the following statement will be added to the Student handbook next year: “the College is moving to replace co-ed and all-gender housing with gender-blind housing. Gender-blind housing provides an opportunity for enrolled students of any gender identity (male, female, transgender, those who do not identify, etc.) to live together in rooms, floors, wings or buildings.”
“[The gender-blind proposal] is a general statement of the direction we are moving in and not a specific plan for how we’re getting there,” said Tyson. She explained that the movement towards more gender-neutral housing, intended to be implemented by 2016, will be executed and reviewed by housing and dining subcommittee members on a yearly basis.
Students who have worked on the two proposals seem to be happy with the results, although they emphasize that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I’m happy it passed,” said Conley. “I wasn’t expecting it to, and it’s a great surprise...This move is a very good first step...but it is only a step.”
According to Conley, several issues must still be addressed. There is the issue of the correct use of terminology: some students suggested that the College’s term “gender-blind” is a misnomer. Students also worried that groups affected by the proposal, such as the Transgender Advocacy Group and the Edmonia Lewis Center, did not have enough input in the process once it went beyond Student Senate.
Conley believes that this should only be the beginning of addressing a range of gender-related issues at Oberlin.
“I’m proud of Oberlin for making clear that it cares about
responding to the needs of gender variant, two spirit, genderqueer and
transgender people,” said Conley. “Now Oberlin needs to continue in
its strong beginning and instigate a housing policy and [develop] a broader
school that not only tolerates or accommodates, but responds to and
fundamentally alters itself in response to the challenges that [we] pose to