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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Housing policy puts Brandeis in small group

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: News

Gender-neutral housing is a recent addition to Brandeis but one that makes it rather unique among colleges, allowing for any students, regardless of gender, to share a dorm room on campus.

“Brandeis saw an opportunity a few years ago to implement gender-neutral housing as one further step along our social justice journey. Over the years students were beginning to [associate with] various gender identities and were requesting a housing accommodation,” Jeremy Leiferman, senior director of Community Living said.

The Department of Community Living’s website also described the arrangement as “[supporting] the University’s non-discrimination policy and fully [committing] to the principles of social justice with respect to sexual orientation, sex, gender and gender identity.” The policy allows for transgender or questioning students, or simply those who do not wish to prescribe to a gender identity, to have housing options with which they may feel more comfortable. Eliminating the heteronormative rules that accompany traditional housing assignments allows for an environment that may be more welcoming.

“Student leaders were a huge rallying factor to assisting us in the creation of the policy,” Leiferman explained. The student advocates’ work turned out to be worthwhile. “We have received strong positive attention from other schools who are following our lead and implementing gender neutral policies on their own campuses.”

Although many students say they would consider gender-neutral housing, only a small number have taken advantage of the opportunity, Leiferman concedes. Neither he nor Dean Gendron, director of Student Rights and Community Affairs, however, has received any complaints from students or other constituents.

Gendron admits that any student issues could have been resolved more casually without the assistance of the student conduct process, but he has not heard of any complications.

Kelsey Strouse ’13 and Robbie Steinberg ’13 described a positive experience last year when they shared a gender-neutral room in East. They and three other friends had initially wanted a suite in Rosenthal, but failed to obtain one under the housing lottery.

Strouse did not have any reservations going into the decision. “We both respected each other a lot and we were really comfortable around each other, so I wasn’t concerned,” she explains, a statement backed by Steinberg. He added that because they were such good friends, “It was probably my favorite year housing-wise so far.”

To Strouse, it was not any different than if she would have a girl as a roommate.

“Any issues that we had were issues that all roommates work out, but it never had anything to do with gender. I honestly had more difficulty adjusting to the gender-neutral bathroom than my gender neutral dorm room!”

Gender-neutral housing is not available to first-years, as the policy only applies to those who specifically agree to room together, but it can be made available if specifically requested.

A few first-years mentioned their willingness to try the housing option in the future, if their potential roommate were someone with whom they felt comfortable.

“A lot of my close friends are girls,” Brian Haungs ’15 expressed, “so it wouldn’t be weird.”

Jes Lin ’15 said she would rather have a male roommate.

“Girls are more drama! If a guy left his shirt on the floor, I’d just tell him to pick it up. But if a girl did the same thing, I would be afraid I would hurt her feelings.”

Not all students felt this way, some citing religious reasons or claiming that they would not feel comfortable in terms of modesty.

Gender differences, however, do come into play. Last year, Nicole Nightingale ’13 shared a suite in Rosie with one other girl and five guys, and opted for gender-neutral housing again this year, living in a suite in Ziv with two guys and four girls.

She describes her experience from the previous year. “[The suite] was not always as clean as it could have been and it was a bit louder than the housing I have this year. I’m not saying girls are always quieter, but the girls I have lived with definitely play less video games.”

Her experience was positive overall, though. “The dynamic of the suite was great. It was definitely a fun atmosphere and studious as well.” Since it went so well, Nightingale was encouraged to choose similar housing this year.

Steinberg, too, said that he would opt for gender-neutral housing in the future and recommend it to others. “My advice for people who want to do it is: Don’t do it if you’re dating that person, because that’s an awful idea. Do it if you’re friends and you know you’ll work well together as roommates.”