After almost two years of planning and discussion, the student-driven proposal to provide all-gender housing at Andover was approved for implementation in the 2017-2018 school year by the Phillips Academy Board of Trustees.
The proposal calls for either one or two smaller dorms on campus to be dedicated to all-gender housing for Lowers, Uppers, and Seniors. Floors will not be separated by gender, and although bedrooms will serve as more private spaces, common rooms will be open to all as public spaces. Romantic or sexual relationships between dormmates would be explicitly banned, and visitors to bedrooms would only be allowed during supervised visiting hours. According to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, house counselors and residents would most likely have agency in determining the rules for intra-dorm room visits between students of different genders, though policies have yet to be defined.
Head of School John Palfrey wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “This decision is completely consistent with our efforts to support all our students equitably and to create an inclusive community. We want all Andover students to feel welcome, known, valued, and at home in our community. We have had transgender students on our campus for a number of years and we have always sought to provide the best environment we can for everyone. This pilot responds to what we have heard from our students and extends our commitment to equity and inclusion in a sensible way.”
According to Elliott, the school would work closely and communicate with the families of students who would wish to live in all-gender housing. Elliott has already received applications from students and faculty members interested in living in all-gender housing.
“It’s going to be a space, I think, that we hope will model for the rest of our residential community how to have really communicative, really trusting, really clear and intentional expectations about how students interact with each other and how they interact with the house counselors in their dorms. That’s going to be important. We have a student who’s already come forward about applying to be a proctor in this space, so that’s awesome, that there’s already a sense of leadership in a space like this, which is fantastic,” said Elliott.
Karissa Kang ’17 was the first to introduce the idea of all-gender housing during her Brace Fellowship in the fall of 2015, laying out a plan for the sustainable implementation of a mixed-gender dorms on campus. Afterwards, Kang reached out to several classmates whom she thought would be interested in the new living opportunity.
After five students of various gender approached the administration asking for permission to “stack” (apply with a group to live in a specific dorm) a small dorm last spring, a faculty task force led by Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English, and Jill Thompson, Director of Admissions, was assembled and began work in the fall of 2016: building a proposal to present before the Board of Trustees.
“It definitely is an important moment though really I think it stems from necessity more than anything else. It’s definitely not a political statement. Andover isn’t segregating by gender in the dorms because that would be almost the same thing. It reinforces the binary anyway… Even when I crafted the terminology, I wanted it to be more accessible for more people so that its not co-ed. It’s not for two genders. It’s for all genders,” said Kang.
“[The proposal] is very much retrofitted to Phillips Academy… We couldn’t really export this to some other school because they’d have to do their own process. It needs to be flexible because Phillips Academy changes every year with every new crop of students that it gets,” said Staffaroni.
Discussions with the board originally began in the Spring Term of last year, but an official proposal from faculty and students was delayed in order to develop the plan further and focus on reforming gendered housing policies for faculty members, who were previously given advantages in the housing bidding process if their genders matched the gender of the dormitory. This year, all faculty members have equal opportunities to move into any large dorm, regardless of gender.
In keeping with the administration’s efforts to promote inclusivity for gender nonconforming students, applications for the 2016-2017 school year were the first that allowed students to opt to be placed in the dorm of the gender they identify as, regardless of assignment at birth, according to Elliott.
“That was a really important step that we made in the admissions process, when we allowed for a self-identify part of the [application]… We’ve done this type of need assessment in so many ways, whether it has to do with a financial need, whether it has to do with an academic need, whether it has to do with a physical or a mental or emotional need. I think that we try to be pretty responsive in that way. We feel like that’s really consistent practices,” said Elliott.
Members of the planning committee also worked alongside staff and students from Phillips Exeter Academy who are working on a similar initiative. The task force met once on campus and once at Exeter for conversations about the similar challenges that they would face during implementation on the respective campuses.
An application for admission to all-gender housing was released in an email along with general dormitory placement information for next year. Students have the option of applying either as a person with a “self-identified need” or as an “ally or trusted advocate.”
Jack Hjerpe ’17, who served as a member of the student task force, believes that the option of all-gender housing on campus would give genderqueer students the support they need to feel comfortable in their living space on campus.
“Living in a single-gender dorm, in my own experience, there are times when it’s hard on someone who is not your classic guy. I can only imagine what it would be like if your actual gender did not align with the gender of the dorm you are living and the gender of the people you are living around. The point of a dorm like this is [that] non-binary students deserve to be represented and empowered by their dorm community in the same way that every [cisgender] student does, too,” said Hjerpe.
Moving forward, no dorms have been designated to be a part of next year’s all-gender housing program. Students and dorms will be matched together based on the community’s demonstrated need using the same process as the typical residential placement.
“I’m really excited. I feel like this is a step at Andover that makes me feel really proud to be part of this community. And I do feel like if our primary role as adults in this campus is to take care of our kids; I feel like this is a way to do that better. That’s a good thing,” said Elliott.