University adopts gender-neutral housing policy

By Delsee Choudhury and Takyra Moore
Atlantic City, NJ and Cary, MS

Princeton University was one of the last Ivy League schools to implement a gender-inclusive housing policy for its students, but starting this fall, students will be allowed to choose roommates regardless of gender.

Gender-inclusive housing allows different genders to share a dorm room. It has become increasingly popular as campuses aim to be more welcoming to transgender students. “It was eye-opening to see how far behind we were,” said Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun.

Gender inclusive housing wasn’t an entirely new idea for Princeton’s administration. The university first offered the option during a pilot program in 2009. Previously, the policy was subject to a so-called “n+1 rule” for the limited number of gender-inclusive rooms — suites were required to contain at least one more room than it did residents. For example, two students would require a three-room suite to provide privacy if needed.

For the upcoming fall semester, Princeton will no longer enforce the n+1 rule because it limited the number of gender-inclusive rooms available.

The University has also changed the terms it uses to describe the program. “We wanted to move away from ‘neutral’ to inclusive,” Calhoun said.

The housing process differs based on a student’s class year. First-year students are assigned housing by filling out a biographical sheet that asks personal questions. Calhoun explained that this is to avoid any major mismatches or conflict between roommates. Students can request gender-inclusive housing when filling out their questionnaire.

Second- to fourth-year students choose their own group of roommates and then pick their rooms based on a lottery. Previously, the entire group was required to be of the same gender. “From this point forward, all housing is gender-inclusive,” Calhoun said.

Approximately three percent of undergraduates chose a gender-inclusive housing setup for the upcoming academic year, said Dorian Johnson, Princeton’s Director of Housing for Housing and Real Estate Services.

“In terms of policy, nothing is really changing,” for students who don’t want to participate in gender-inclusive housing, Calhoun said.

While Calhoun said much of the campus supported the new policy, some critics were concerned that gender-inclusive housing and bathrooms would increase the number of sexual assault cases. But Calhoun said that this wasn’t a major issue in the policy discussion, pointing to the fact that the University also has gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Calhoun also received personal attacks on her decision to introduce the policy.  “I’ve received emails from more conservative students telling me I’m going to hell,” she said. But with a pause and a confident smile, she continued: “If I am going to hell, I’m not going to hell for this.”

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