Saturday, August 25, 2012

From the HuffPo. Thoughts on The Old Same Sex Roommate Thing.

by Josh A. Goodman

This year's college freshmen start soon, and those living away from home will receive roommate assignments shortly if they haven't already. While first-years may have a roommate of a different race or religion, from a different socioeconomic background, or from another part of the country, their roommate will almost universally be someone of the same sex.

Though separating students by gender and sex sounds benign enough, same-gender only housing policies perpetuate problematic gender and sex norms and cause discomfort for some students. A handful of colleges, such as U.C. Berkeley and Penn, offer gender- and sex-neutral housing to incoming students, and over 50 offer it to upperclass students. Students at other schools would benefit if their colleges followed suit; here's why:

1. Same-gender only housing is heteronormative
2. Gender-neutral housing offers a safe option to students outside traditional gender and sex boxes
3. Gender-neutral housing makes gender less significant

More HuffPo.


  1. I can understand why queer students would feel uncomfortable with the "random roommate of the same sex" thing. But colleges already take some level of care in pairing up Freshmen according to characteristics that make them more likely to be compatible, and therefore less of a drag on student services. Why not take this into account as well?

    Nevertheless there are serious logistical problems having to do with shared toilet space (using the older sense of "toilet" as all personal hygiene activities). Queer people (should) already have developed strategies for negotiating that space by the time they get to college -- unless they're needlessly sheltered, they have to -- but straight people won't have such strategies because they haven't needed them. Forcing straights to develop such strategies on the fly would make their transition needlessly difficult.

    The author is a bit clueless. "While mainstream gender-neutral housing is a worthy long-term goal, making a complete switch now would make some people highly uncomfortable." Some people. Gee, ya think?

    A good deal of the problem could be solved by moving all students into suites or apartments with complete privacy for their toilet activities. But that's quite expensive.

    From the comments section:
    (clueless twit to woman): Would you mind expanding a little bit upon why you wouldn't consider it safe to have a straight man as a roommate?

    (woman): Because I've been around straight men before.

    The woman is straight -- but I'd be willing to bet that, say Frog and Toad would support her veto.

    1. Incidentally, by "shared toilet space" I am thinking particularly of communal shower rooms; these still exist, even in dormitories, though they may be on the way out -- the lavatories I've seen when at conferences have private shower stalls.

      Straight men and women are likely to be rather uncomfortable with a co-ed communal shower. This in spite of the fact that co-ed communal lavatories already exist on some campuses: (a) AFAIK they don't put Frosh in such dorms and (b) I'd bet quite a lot that the showers those lavs are NOT communal and ARE walled off.

  2. Whatever you are insinuating here, introvert, I'd support anyone's veto of a roommate based on possible physical danger. Many gay men don't feel safe around straight men either, and rightly so (Tyler Clementi comes to mind). And many lesbians would rather room with a gay man than with a homophobic straight woman. Not to mention African American students who'd rather not room with a white supremacist, and so on.

    Also, queer people are generally raised to be straight people, and we don't have any special premium on sharing toilet space. I've been to a men's room only a handful of times, and like straight women, I find pee on the floor pretty disgusting. Are you talking about trans people who are lucky enough to find gender-neutral bathrooms, which tend not to exist in high schools?

    Like Hiram, I am baffled as to where this special expertise in mixed-gender toileting comes from, and as to why I, in particular, was singled out here.

    1. I insinuate nothing; I'm simply counting on our previous cordial online relationship and using your "queer cred" as it were.

      I'm sorry that I singled you out, and won't do it again.

    2. No, that's OK -- clearly the internet is a "cold" medium, and I have had previous bad experiences on this site with that particular issue. I totally misread you! I apologize for my prickly response.

  3. I liked the solution I encountered when staying on a college campus for a conference recently: lots of single-occupancy toilet/sink and shower/dressing rooms with lockable doors occupying the center of the building. This arrangement both maximized the chances of finding an open room when you needed one, and eliminated any gender/safety issues, since everyone got hir own little room (and anyone could use any room). I suspect they were a bit more expensive to construct and maintain than traditional communal bathrooms, but probably not ridiculously so, and certainly more practical in various ways than in-room bathrooms. And I suspect that traditional hall bathrooms could relatively easily be converted to this model. Even a full-length lockable/latchable door on stalls of whatever kind, with room to undress, dry, and redress (or at least cover up) inside for shower stalls (and no urinals unless they were in stalls) would do the trick for most people, I'd think. There might be some arguments for privacy at the sink (in order to deal with some birth-control and menstrual devices, and perhaps menstrual cleanup), but toilet/sink compartments can provide that.

    As far as rooms go, I'd be in favor of students having the option of checking a box that says something along the lines of "I have particular concerns about a traditional random roommate arrangement," and then providing a text box to explain and/or a number or email to contact (and, preferably, being able to accomplish all of this without parental input/oversight, or with a method of overriding/replacing the "official" submission if need be). Especially if checking said box did not automatically lead to receiving a single, I'd think that the pool of people requesting such accommodations would be relatively small, and arrangements could be worked out. For all that I'd like homophobes to eventually get to know gay students, I don't think that jammed into the same tiny room freshman year is the way to do that; it puts too much of a burden on the gay student. My freshman year, one of my classmates who identified as gay actually received death threats from his roommate, and was eventually moved (with much controversy over who should have had to do the moving to what was seen as a less prestigious part of campus). The fact that the (male) classmate is now happily married to a woman is interesting, but not particularly relevant; whatever his evolving sense of his own identity, he had every right to evolve, and study, free of death threats.

    After the first year, I'd be inclined to let students work things out themselves, perhaps with roommate contracts to fill out dealing with various eventualities (e.g. the mid-year breakup of a couple of whatever combination of genders). After freshman year, the main messes I remember were when breakups disrupted various arrangements, formal and informal, that allowed for co-rooming by romantic partners (e.g. gay partners rooming together, or two heterosexual couples arranging things so that each couple had a room to themselves). Acknowledging the actual nature of such situations would allow for better planning ahead should the situation deteriorate.

  4. Argh.

    This reminds me of my dorm experience, oh so long ago. I moved into the dorm, met my roommate, set up my belongings. A few weeks into term, I began meeting people. And since I am bisexual, this began to create tension. I decided I should come out to my roommate instead of trying to sneak around hoping she wouldn't notice when I was fooling around with the "wrong" gender.

    This was back when coming out was a very difficult prospect. And so when I talked to her about it, I tried to put her at ease by letting her know that I wasn't attracted to her or anything, so she shouldn't be uncomfortable.

    Turns out, this was a great insult. Who fucking knew? She was so upset that it wasn't enough I was "immoral" but that I was both immoral AND apparently blind to her stunning beauty. And *that* is the reason I found myself without a Roommate by Thanksgiving Break.

    (which was actually pretty sweet for a Freshman, but I was never happy in that dorm once everyone pegged me for a weirdo)


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