The following is an excerpt from the Brandeis Department of Community Living’s Gender Neutral Housing Policy.
“Critics of gender neutral housing believe that the option promotes promiscuity and encourages students in heterosexual relationships to live together. At Brandeis, students in relationships already have the option to live together in suites and apartments, and most students in relationships do not choose to live together.
This criticism also assumes that students who select gender neutral housing are heterosexual, and it does not take into account that students in same-sex relationships have always had the opportunity to live together.”
In a recent post, Gender Discrimination at Brandeis? And Facebook?, I wrote about how Brandeis’ JBS site only offered “male” and “female” as options under the gender category. I talked about how even when gender discrimination isn’t intentional, it can hurt people.
However, I also noted that when I wrote to JBS administrators with this complaint, they responded quickly in expressing their understanding of the issue and their willingness to expand the gender category options. This isn’t the only arena in which Brandeis has demonstrated its sensitivity, as you can see with its housing policy.
Alongside DCL’s stance on gender neutral housing appears a glossary of key terms from its website. One that sticks out is:
Gender identity – The inner sense of being male or female.
I think this term is perhaps most key in discussing the world of gender. Gender is a social construction, and holds different meanings and connotations for different people. Even though people may identify you as a man or woman, and it’s often easier and more practical within our current system to think of all people as fitting within these two categories, gender identity is something that you alone can determine. It can’t be assigned to you.
When I was in Mississippi this summer on JBS: Civil Rights in Mississippi, one of the things that bothered me the most was Jackson State University’s policy that females and males have to live in separate dorms. Even worse, we were told there was no male-female visitation for the whole summer (meaning you could not set foot in the building of the opposite gender except in the lobby), because there were groups of high school students living in the dorms.
Taking into account the Mississippi heat, and the fact that most buildings on campus closed at 5, that meant that the only times that I and the other girls could see the male students on the program was during class or on the rare occasions we were able to drive to places.
Now, many schools implement this policy, especially Historically Black Colleges and Universities (like JSU) I would imagine. I’m not sure if these policies achieve their aims, (keeping students focused on schoolwork, keeping students from getting pregnant) but for me at least, they create gaps between the genders. And they lead to self-segregation.
So why do colleges choose to put these pressures on students, acting like parents who decide who their children’s friends are, when college is supposed to promote growth and independence? Why are some colleges, like ours, able to allow students these freedoms and still thrive, but other schools feel the need to restrict students’ socializing?
While I have many objections to Brandeis’ Housing system in general, I would like to applaud DCL for their progressive and, seemingly successful, stance on gender neutral housing. I’m still looking into answers for these other questions, and would love hypotheses you propose.