September 13, 2007

The Loaded Implications of Gender Neutrality

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Come on, over 20 other colleges have it, including Harvard. You can also have it off-campus. Why not on campus? These reasons and others for gender-neutral housing, stated in a resolution proposed to the Student Assembly, offer a poor rationale for the policy. Frankly, who cares about Harvard? And what about the hundreds of other colleges without gender-neutral housing; do they not count? Also, although the crackdown on noise in Collegetown has become overzealous, I still do not want to have trouble falling asleep at night on campus because loud noises can keep you awake off-campus in Collegetown. When we stop looking to see what colleges or places off-campus do or do not allow, and instead ask ourselves the reasons why we should allow gender-neutral housing, the implications of this policy quickly offer a good rationale to oppose it.

By enabling boyfriends and girlfriends to room together, the University really is asking for trouble. The reason why is simple: a relationship is not a binding contract; a housing contract is binding. To complicate matters, if the lady has had enough of her man but the man thinks otherwise, this easily could devolve into a horrible situation. At best, the lady will not feel safe or comfortable in her own room. At worst, the housing contract will essentially lock her into a situation where sexual crimes can take place behind closed doors. Now at this point one could probably get new accommodations, but you do not switch rooms after you get sexually assaulted; you prevent this situation from even happening in the first place. Even if the couple later marries, research from the Heritage Foundation indicates that cohabitation doubles the rate of divorce (assuming you cohabited with your future husband; it quadruples otherwise). Needless to say, the negative externalities of gender-neutral housing would open a huge Pandora’s box.

Now the resolution counters this, stating that homosexuals already can share the same bathroom and the same room. While I agree that this does happen in the status quo, the solution does not make sense. If gender-neutral housing is flawed, but a small flaw still exists without gender-neutral housing, then we should not solve the problem by enlarging it, making the whole system “equally” flawed. For this line of reasoning to work, you first have to prove that gender-neutral housing is not flawed. This leaves us with circular reasoning, as you then have to prove that gender-neutral dorms are not flawed to make an argument for gender-neutral dorms.

Given the consequences of this decision, if you want to follow through with this policy, you better have a lot of confidence behind your theory of gender. However, one can hardly have that level of confidence in the gender research going on in our university. Cornell’s own program in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies states that “the social organization of sexuality is best studied from the perspectives offered by those positions that have been excluded from established social and cultural norms.” Now if they had said that we should include those excluded positions, that actually would have been great, as it would have promoted intellectually diverse viewpoints on the subject. But that quote did not say “should include”; it said “is best studied.” If Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies qualifies as an academic discipline, then why should it give preference to any one group, gay or straight, declaring it the “best”?

And this is not just happening at Cornell. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University, who in 1973 successfully argued that the American Psychiatric Association should remove homosexuality as a mental disorder, later decided that homosexuality could be changed. Even though he was just following the research (which also happened to disagree with his personal belief that homosexuality can not be changed), he nonetheless received a less-than-warm reception from his friends. May his story be a warning that even an institution as prestigious as the American Psychiatric Association can have its own biases as well.

This points to a much larger flaw in LGBT research to date. Many who conduct such research espouse their belief in the inalienable rights of homosexuals. This in turn compromises their scientific research into the issue. For example, when we find gender stereotypes, do they mean we should completely disregard the concept of male and female, or does it mean we should exercise more caution when attributing some behaviors to a certain gender while not completely throwing out the idea of male and female? If I see a woman acting “unwomanlike,” I am not going to assume she falls into one of the LGBT categories. OK, my example was probably too simplistic, but you get the point. However, that latter view on gender stereotypes, while plausible, hardly has received nearly as much consideration because it does not fit with the LGBT rights framework. While science takes nothing for granted, relying on research and experimentation, a rights-based approach assumes that certain rights exist with unshakable faith. This combination of science and dogma has compromised a lot of LGBT research, similar to how a mix of science and dogma proved fatal for Creationism. While both can theoretically be studied from a pfaburely academic perspective, in theory, that has proven problematic for both.

Frankly, if LGBT research faced the same standards that Creationism faced, it would have suffered a similar fate. That did not happen, however. Instead, it is augmenting the fight for a major change to Cornell’s housing policy. Furthermore, this change will have implications for not just the LBGT community, but the campus-at-large, and the consequences could be drastic in some cases. Regardless of how many colleges adapt gender-neutral housing, Cornell should buck the newest trend in gender-neutrality and face the foibles compromising this policy.

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be contacted at mwacker@cornellsun.com.