Noticing the issue of transgender insensitivity that single sex boys’ and girls’ dorms have been perpetuating on Andover’s campus, Karissa Kang ’17 proposed an all-gender housing system during her Brace Fellowship Presentation on Monday.
Kang’s presentation, entitled “A Proposal for All-Gender Housing,” discussed the importance of incorporating all-gender housing at Andover to include the three percent of students, roughly 30 students, who do not identify as male or female, but rather as transgender, gender-fluid or other identities, according to The Phillipian’s 2015 “State of the Academy.”
“While you may not think that 30 students is a lot, this number is predicted to grow in coming years. The number of children, according to the English Nation Health Service, [with] transgender feelings has quadrupled actually in the past five years [and] that is indicative of what will happen in the future,” said Kang during the presentation.
Currently, only a handful of prep schools have made progress in transgender inclusivity on their campuses. At Deerfield Academy, co-ed dorms, in which girls and boys live on different floors in a building, are being implemented. Similarly, Andover and Exeter have begun to incorporate gender-inclusive restroom signs on their respective campuses.
Kang said, “But other than [the co-ed dorms and gender-inclusive restroom signs], not much has been done. None of our peer prep schools have implemented any kind of all-gender housing… housing students of all genders without thinking about gender… or anything to accommodate transgender students at all really. That’s why I started this proposal.”
“All-gender housing simply [and] explicitly suggests that this housing is for people of all genders, and I figured that that was the best way to go [for Andover],” said Kang.
Kang found that there were three common types of gender-neutral or mixed gender dorms: dorms that separate genders by floor, dorms that incorporate all genders without segregation and dorms that include, but separate, all genders.
Kang decided to focus her proposal on suggesting all-gender housing, without separation, as a possibility for Andover.
Kang said that the term “gender neutral” conveys an odd connotation, which suggests that students in these housing are almost stripped of their genders or neutered while the term “co-ed” suggested that only those defined as either girls or boys could be housed.
Kang discussed the basic pillars of her plan, which include: educating faculty members on gender identity issues and having an even distribution of large all-gender dorms on campus for students of all grades.
In addition, Kang addressed potential drawbacks to her plan, such as the exploitation of an all-gender dorm in the form of sexual assault by heterosexual males, in particular.
“Sexual assault exists on the Andover campus, but all-gender housing shouldn’t exacerbate that problem… I even feel like it could help fix the problem because I think that sexual assault doesn’t occur because of passion or lust. [Occurrences of] sexual assault are acts of power and control [but] if we are making a safe space… we could be helping better relations between students of all genders,” said Kang.
Although transgender students only constitute a small portion of the student body, this number will grow in the future, and the issue of inclusive, all-gender dorms needs to be further discussed, said Kang.
Theodore Perez ’16, an attendee of the event, felt that the most impactful part of Kang’s presentation was the call for change with housing on campus.
“The implementation of [all-gender housing] would be revolutionary at a high school in that there’s a lot of traditional values that are held when it comes to high school residential life… The idea of separate general gender housing is…more powerful than just the norm, it is what exists.”
“I believe, the idea of implementing a system that changes that is revolutionary at a high school level and that changes the whole game. It makes us redefine how we define residential life.” continued Perez.
Flavia Vidal, Co-Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies and an attendee of the presentation, also agreed with Kang’s message of inclusion.
“For some [transgender students, it] would be four years, four very formidable years of their lives, in the place they should feel comfortable. It is a horrible thing not to feel comfortable in your own home. So the least we can do is to provide students a safe and comfortable space where they can be themselves and express their gender identity,” said Vidal.