George Bates

George Bates

The days before coeducation at Princeton never have seemed farther away, with the University’s announcement last month that it will offer gender-neutral housing as a pilot program in 2010­–11. Students are applauding the idea that, for the first time, undergraduates will be able to live with roommates of the opposite gender.

The program, drafted by the Undergraduate Life Council (ULC) and approved by the Council of Masters and Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson, will allow male and female students to share suites in Spelman Halls. Upperclassmen in Spelman live in four-person suites with a separate bedroom for each student; the living room, kitchen, and bathroom are shared.  

Many of Princeton’s peer institutions already have established gender-neutral housing options, which often have particular appeal for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community who might feel more comfortable living with students of the opposite gender.

Connor Diemand-Yauman ’10, Undergraduate Student Government president, said the initial reaction from students had been “overwhelmingly positive.” Some said the issue is one of equity. “This is a positive step in terms of being accessible to folks who deal with gender unconventionally,” said Sarah Constantin ’10. Others said students, whether LGBT or heterosexual, will have more options. “We’re all adults,” said Robert McGibbon ’11. “It only helps people to give them more choices.”

But the program aroused some concerns as well. For room-draw groups of four to eight students to be eligible for gender-neutral housing in Spelman, at least half of the students must be independents. That requirement may discriminate against eating club members, said David Karp ’10. Matt Sanyour ’11 said he fears that mixed-gender housing groups might open the door for a drunken roommate to commit an assault.  

Arthur Levy ’10, ULC chairman, said conservative students voiced a concern that the program endorses heterosexual couples living together before marriage. Brandon McGinley ’10, head of the pro-chastity Anscombe Society, said gender-neutral housing may “add to a culture of sexual expectation.”  

Emily Rutherford ’12, who helped draft the proposal, said she doubts that ­heterosexual couples in a relationship will take advantage of the program, however. She said that most same-sex couples, who already have the option of living together, typically don’t, and heterosexual students probably would act similarly.