by Brandon McGinley ’10
“[T]he fact that [gender-neutral housing] happened with relatively little fanfare speaks very, very well for this university and its administration.”
Thus wrote Emily Rutherford ’12 in her blog post “breaking” the story about Princeton’s gender-neutral housing pilot program, which was announced by USG President Connor Diemand-Yauman ’10 in an email to the student body on October 14.
The “relatively little fanfare” of which Rutherford speaks could be interpreted two ways. First, it could refer to the fact that this sweeping new policy was greeted happily and without opposition by the student body. This is not possible. Rutherford’s blog was the first to mention the pilot program; there had yet to be any reaction to gauge. Thus, the second interpretation must hold true: she is expressing satisfaction with a policy-making process that surreptitiously dropped a controversial policy on an unsuspecting student body without providing opportunity for debate and discussion. If we replace “fanfare” with “dissent,” we can understand the true manner by which gender-neutral housing was approved.
Earlier in this edition of the Tory, Alfred Miller ’11 and Raphael Murillo ’12 reveal how this was accomplished. Gender-neutral housing policy was formulated within the ‘confidential’ confines of the Undergraduate Life Council which could solicit a tiny slice of student opinion on this important issue without transparency or accountability. Indeed, there is evidence that the confidentiality of the ULC is a farce, selectively applied to those moments when the Council is considering something it wants to keep from the public eye. Miller was simultaneously invited to a future meeting of the Council by its president, Arthur Levy ’10, and admonished that every move the Council makes is “strictly confidential.” It just so happens that the meeting to which Miller was invited was the first one after gender-neutral housing had been passed; his request for the minutes from the previous meeting, in which we now know the policy was approved, was denied.
We also now know that the “relevant input” sought by Levy and Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson was little more than a progressive cabal led by Rutherford and other “selected administrators and students.” Voices that were known to be supportive were sought out; voices that were suspected to be opposed, such as those of religious groups and the Anscombe Society, were shut out. Indeed, Levy has stated explicitly that “there was no one saying this was the wrong thing to do.” Rather than trying to rectify this, the ULC merely insulated itself even more from dialogue and dissent. And the whole process was and continues to be hidden by the veil of “confidentiality,” making promises of transparency and accountability from this administration into one big, not particularly funny joke.
We can now see how the process by which gender-neutral housing policy was formulated was designed to circumvent real student input and to squelch dissent. The question we must ask now is why? Why did the USG keep this process so quiet and secretive, and why are campus radicals such as Rutherford so satisfied with such a patently unfair policy-making process? What do proponents of gender-neutral housing, which has generally been received with open arms by the campus community, have to fear from a true debate? In doing actual research into other gender-neutral housing programs, research that it is unclear that anyone in the ULC or the administration cared to do, the Tory has discovered some potential answers to this question.
The dirty little secret of gender-neutral housing at peer institutions, it turns out, is that no one actually wants it. Dartmouth set aside 52 gender-neutral suites; 13 are occupied. Only 1.6% of Penn students applied for gender-neutral housing in 2006. And at Brown, arguably home to the most progressive student body in the Ivy League, only one half of one percent of students—roughly 30 undergraduates—form mixed gender draw groups. But with the secrecy of the policy-making process and the suddenness of the decision, information such as this, which would have come out if a public forum were allowed to have existed, was suppressed.
Even if the unpopularity of gender-neutral housing in practice at other universities was featured in a public discussion of the issue here, however, there would likely still have been support for a small program in Spelman to accommodate that tiny minority. And so the question remains, why stifle dissent? Why make the entire process closed to public eyes? There are two answers to this question, both of which motivated the manner by which gender-neutral housing was dropped on Princeton students. First, the goals of the radical cabal which has dominated the gender-neutral housing discussion go well beyond just Spelman. Second, it is clear that the motivations behind this policy have very little to do with actual students.
To the first point, we can look to Connor Diemand-Yauman’s email to the student body. He writes: “By comparing Spelman’s gender neutral housing policy with the same-gender roommate system in other buildings, and broadly soliciting student input about the strengths and weaknesses of the system, it will be possible to evaluate the success of the program, as well as whether it should be continued and/or expanded in future.” Diemand-Yauman indicates that one of the possible outcomes of the pilot program is its expansion around campus. The experiences of other universities, however, show that demand will not even meet the supply provided by Spelman, let alone other campus buildings. This is not an argument against the pilot program, of course, but it clearly demonstrates the frivolousness of expanding the program. If a debate were to have occurred before the pilot program were approved, plans for its expansion would have (rightly) been thrown into grave doubt.
But let’s take a look at the criteria on which expansion would be based. First, there is a comparison between the new system in Spelman and the old system elsewhere. This is so nebulous as to be completely without substance; it is merely priming the pump of arbitrariness. How can the two systems be “compared?” In particular, how can student experiences in the apartment-style Spelman be compared in any robust and meaningful way to those elsewhere? Second, we have “broadly soliciting student input,” which could be a telling criterion. Can this administration be trusted, however, to honestly solicit a wide-range of student opinion? During the first stage of this process, “relevant input” was defined as progressive supporters of gender-neutral housing; skeptical groups like the Anscombe Society were shunted away as “unproductive.”
But the second point which is revealed by the secrecy of the process is perhaps more disturbing. Princeton’s gender-neutral housing program was hailed by students across campus, and in particular by its strong progressive supporters, as a victory for student freedom generally and for members of the LGBT community specifically, in particular transgender students. The data shows, however, that there is, in truth, minimal demand for mixed-gender housing; the idea that there is some popular movement among students who yearn for the opportunity to live with acquaintances of the opposite sex is a myth. This program is not for them; they don’t exist.
Of course, this leaves transgender students. But Princeton could easily follow Harvard’s lead and address those students who, by virtue of their gender identities, desire mixed-gender housing (or simply singles) on a case-by-case basis. There is no compelling need to institutionalize gender-neutral housing for these students. But now we get to the crux of the matter. It seems clear this institutionalization of gender-neutral housing has very little to do with students themselves since there is, in fact, negligible desire for gender-neutral housing among the general student population and the tiny community of transgender students could easily be accommodated on an individual basis. What, then, is the motivation?
LGBT Center Director Debbie Bazarsky conveniently provides the answer. In her comment to The Daily Princetonian on the announcement of the pilot program, Bazarsky lauded the University’s decision to offer “gender-free housing.” The shift in terminology is small but important. “Gender-neutral” simply means that the housing office will not take gender into account when assigning a room. “Gender-free” denies the existence of a concept called “gender” completely (except, of course, as a social construct). Here, then, is the answer to the question we previously posed: why institutionalize gender-neutral housing when it is not necessary to meet students’ needs? Because it has nothing to do with students’ needs, and everything to do with institutionalizing a “critical gender theory” view of human sexuality in University policy.
And so either the Undergraduate Life Committee knew what the Tory has revealed in this issue—that peer institutions have experienced a negligible demand for gender-neutral housing—or they failed to do that research. No matter which is the case, the institutionalization of gender-neutral housing that emerged from that committee has been shown to have much more to do with politics and ideology, with enshrining a radical and idiosyncratic ideology in University policy, than with actual undergraduate concerns.
Although this pilot program was dropped on the student body as a fait accompli, the fate of the policy once the pilot expires will not escape public scrutiny so easily. Over the next 18 months, then, as the gender-neutral housing program is implemented and studied, it is incumbent on Princeton conservatives to make the case that expansion of this policy beyond Spelman would be a frivolous exercise in ideological posturing. The question is not about students’ needs and desires, as they neither need nor desire gender-neutral housing. The question is whether we will allow the administration and a small number of progressive students to impose a radical view of human sexuality—a society free of gender—on this University.