October 17, 2007

Students React to S.A. Housing Resolution

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On Oct. 4, Cornell followed the trend of nearly 30 other universities when the Student Assembly passed a resolution by a nine to two vote allowing the implementation of gender-neutral housing on campus.
The resolution, proposed by Arts and Sciences representative Vince Hartman ’08, states: “A student should have the privilege to preference any other student they feel the most comfortable living with, regardless of gender.”
The resolution calls for a number of suites and dorm rooms to be designated as gender-neutral beginning next fall. The original form of the resolution was amended after Asa Craig ’11, S.A. freshman representative, proposed that all undergraduates be allowed to request gender-neutral housing. The original resolution restricted the new housing policy solely to West Campus residence halls and non-freshmen over the age of 18.
The resolution does not make gender-neutral housing mandatory, but offers the option to these students.
Hartman explained that gender neutral housing will provide students with a choice and make residence halls more appealing.
“Residence halls offer community and you shouldn’t be trying to push students away by not allowing students to live with the opposite gender,” Hartman said.
The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning community may also particularly benefit from the new housing option.
Although programs are available for these students, Gwendolyn Dean, director of the LGBT resource center said, “It can particularly benefit transgender students who may not be able to live in the housing provided for their targetgender.”
Andrew Heuman ’11 agreed with Dean, stating “So many of society’s institutions are bound by the gender binary and heterosexual thinking that it’s refreshing to hear this kind of initiative come through.”
The resolution still raises significant concerns for certain S.A. members.
“By having this resolution passed, it’s opening a door to a path that can end in catastrophe,” warned Andrew Wang ’09, S.A. representative At Large.
Wang, who voted against the resolution, raised concerns regarding the drive behind the resolution and the possibility of a rise in sexual assault within residence halls.
“I think that campus life wants gender neutral housing because a lot of other colleges are doing it and they want people to live on campus. I see more of a negative consequence to that. It’s not worth making a few extra bucks to keep those students on campus than to have a situation where a guy rapes a girl,” Wang said.
Kent Hubbell, dean of students and S.A. advisor, countered Wang’s assumption, stating “The University runs its housing programs not at a profit. The housing and dining services are operated at cost.”
Ahmed Salem ’08, S.A. representative At Large, voted against the resolution as well, feeling that the consequences of gender-neutral housing, such as increased sexual abuse, have not been fully explored and that the option should not be available to students under the age of 18.
“It is very important for us to have a welcoming and embracing environment for people with different views or lifestyles, but in the quest for that we cannot also ignore the effects that policies may have,” Salem said.
According to research done by Hartman primarily through contacting universities such as Dartmouth and Skidmore that have already implemented gender-neutral housing, student feedback has been positive and no increase in sexual assault cases have been reported.
Certain S.A. members, however, still feel that a lack of statistical data and research exist.
Adam Gay ’08, S.A. vice president for finance, supports the idea of gender neutral housing, but abstained from the vote, feeling that there was “never really a thorough in depth analysis of this program.”
Although gender-neutral housing provides greater variety on campus, some students do not feel that these new accommodations will influence their decision to move off campus.
Christina Yip ’11 agrees that the gender neutral housing is a good idea, but that it will not affect where she lives.
“I plan to move off campus anyway so I don’t think it will influence my decision,” Yip said.
Similarly, Brian Tan ’11 does not feel that the resolution will influence his own decision to remain on campus, but is “sure that other people will probably reconsider their housing options with this new bill passed.”
Logistical issues surrounding gender-neutral housing still remain.
“The next step is to send this motion to the [President David J. Skorton] for his consideration. If there is strong support, then it’s more likely than not to happen. But in the end, Cornell will have to take stock of how this would work and go forward from there,” Hubbell said.
Drawing a parallel between the desegregation of college campuses in the 1960s and the current implementation of gender neutral housing, Hubbell said, “We’ve come a long way in the last 40 years and gender- neutral housing may just be the last step in a long process.”