The Gender Inclusivity Task Force, a group of faculty members tasked with creating a proposal for all-gender housing on an administrative level, is working with students to implement an all-gender dorm on campus. The task force’s initiative is to accommodate the needs of Andover’s transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and genderqueer students. A formal plan for the implementation of an all-gender dorm will be presented Winter Term, according to Task Force members, who declined to be interviewed until the plan is officially executed.
The proposal was spearheaded last fall by Karissa Kang ’17, through her project as a 2015- 2016 Brace Center Student Fellow. Kang wrote and presented a plan for one or two dorms of medium size – 15 to 25 students – to be designated as all-gender dorms. In Kang’s plan, students would check off whether or not they wanted to be part of an all-gender dorm on the housing form.
“I think the benefits are twofold. The first, and I think the most obvious benefit, is for students who don’t identify either as boys or girls to have a space where they can safely live and be themselves. The second important aspect I feel like is [that] anyone of any gender can benefit from living with and interacting with people of other genders – as it is, there is a lot of self-segregation on campus gender-wise,” said Kang in an interview with The Phillipian.
Kang says that all-gender dorms would give students a safe and comfortable place to live and interact with peers of all genders.
“I know that sometimes women and men find the space to be safer when it’s just with other women or men, and I want to respect that – but I would love if society also changed so that we would find ourselves in a place where men and women, boys and girls, people of all genders could live together,” said Kang.
“I think that it could be really beneficial for the community just to have a space where genders can mingle and realize they really aren’t so different,” she continued.
A student focus group – comprised of Kang, Jack Hjerpe ’17, Bennett Sherr ’17, Anneke Sherry ’17, and Ana Morales ’18 – have worked alongside the faculty task force since last spring to develop the proposal for all-gender housing. Hjerpe agrees that the current housing system does not adequately accommodate students of all genders.
“I think that right now the dorm housing system is fairly binary. I think that if we’re going to claim to be a gender-equitable campus, we can’t do that without having housing options that represent people’s gender properly,” said Hjerpe.
Kang encourages people with dissenting opinions to advocate for their beliefs, as some community members, said Kang, might have some qualms about male and female students living together in the same dorm.
“I think the biggest reason that people seem to object is just the fact that having guys and girls living together can result in guys and girls hooking up, and that results in other things, and that can be bad,” said Hjerpe.
Melanie Tlaseca-Verde ’19 said, “The only reason why it would maybe be a bad idea would be because people would take advantage of it, which honestly I doubt if there’s an extensive process with the house counselor. [But] I think it would be helpful for the gender-nonconforming people who feel uncomfortable choosing between a female and a male dorm. It should be implemented. I’m surprised that it has not already been.”
In addition to unease about all-gender dorms leading to increased sexual activity between students, some students have also expressed concern that the all-gender dorm might isolate transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and genderqueer students and pressure students who have not come out of the closet.
Hjerpe said, “I think it would be made clear that the dorm is not only for people who don’t identify as cis male or cis female, because that could effectively be outing someone who doesn’t want to be outed.” “I think that you’d have to get parental permission,” said Hjerpe, “but in seeking parental permission, it would not be made explicitly clear, ‘I want to live here because I identify as non-binary or I identify as transgender,’ but ‘this is a certain kind of housing community that I would like to be a part of.’ ”
“I think that you’d have to get parental permission,” said Hjerpe, “but in seeking parental permission, it would not be made explicitly clear, ‘I want to live here because I identify as non-binary or I identify as transgender,’ but ‘this is a certain kind of housing community that I would like to be a part of.’ ”
The task force hopes that the first all-gender dorm will be implemented by next fall.
Hjerpe said, “I think it’s definitely realistic, it’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when. Ideally next year we’ll have some kind of all-gender housing situation set up, but if not, hopefully the year after that. But I think it just depends on the school as a whole, in terms of what the school is ready for, what the faculty wants to take on, and just how quickly we’d be ready for that, [because] an all-gender dorm is really progressive.”