Let’s cut the cap

To deflect basic ad hominem criticisms, I will begin by saying, yes, my future roommate and I were the first girls gender-capped out of Dodd Circle in this year’s room draw. And this piece is not a complaint about my rooming situation next year; we have secured a very reasonably sized double in Thompson Hall. Though my anger may be based in my bad luck, my objection to the gender-capped dormitories is not. The more I think critically about the principle of gender capping, the more discriminatory it seems.

Let us begin by thinking about a list of cultural identifiers: race, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality and, yes, gender. Now imagine if any dormitory were capped based on any of the other identifiers. No dormitory can have over 60 percent Muslims. Or financial aid recipients. Or homosexuals. If the thought of these caps are so horrifying to us, why should we accept gender caps without question?

One possible argument for gender caps is to prevent a house from being dominated by one sex, rendering people of the opposite gender to feel uncomfortable from picking into said dorm. But we must ask ourselves the justifications for that discomfort. Women may feel uncomfortable living in a very male dominated space for fear of intimidation and vice-versa. However, aren’t these beliefs just basic stereotypes and prejudices? Shouldn’t we make an effort to combat these assumptions? If any other minority felt uncomfortable living with a majority defined by cultural identifiers, it would be brushed off as a product of ignorance.

Gender caps only reinforce the belief that the two genders, for some reason, cannot completely coexist within close living spaces without conflict. It is only evidence of how far we, perhaps as a society, have to go in terms of gender relations. And in any case, the fear of gender dominance cannot be one of the legitimate justifications for this policy as gender caps apparently do not apply to first-year entries: Sage E is 66 percent female and Mills 3 is 62.5 percent female.

Not only are gender caps discriminatory, but they are also a limiting and insensitive policy. Gender caps force students to define themselves by one sex or the other. But what about students who identify with the opposite biological sex? What about students who identity with both or neither sexes? For a college that values diversity and inclusivity, gender caps are hypocritical. Some may argue that administrators may deal with these students on a case-by-case basis. However, by doing so, the College would be creating and enforcing the norm of defining gender by biological sex. Such a policy is a form of marginalization, sending the message that any deviation from this norm necessitates special treatment.

LGBTQ rights are on the minds of other prestigious institutions of higher learning. Within the past two years, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Tufts, Stanford, along with several other colleges and universities have made remarkable progress in guaranteeing an equitable student life for members of the LGBTQ community. These schools now cover sex reassignment surgery under student insurance plans. If the College’s peer institutions are so attuned to the needs of all their students, forcing Williams students to abide by the antiquated black and white standards of gender is simply backwards.

From my understanding, the original intention behind implementing gender caps was to prevent sororities and fraternities from forming. While this may have once been a legitimate fear, there is almost no risk of such a thing occurring today. Aside from the fact that all students wish to live in the best housing possible, it would take extensive planning and astronomically good odds for a large group of students of the same sex to coalesce, dominate a desirable dorm, and continue doing so for future years. And even if such a thing were to develop, the College explicitly forbids the formation of any fraternities and sororities and could act to disband these groups and discipline the students involved.

It is not as though there are no dormitories on campus that are associated with certain social groups. Even with the gender caps in place, Wood and Tyler House are known for their parties thrown by certain varsity teams.

These two dormitories, however, remain exceptions. Why is there a fear of a resurgence of Greek life, yet no fear of the formation of an a cappella house or a Minority Coalition house? In the end, the College, as a whole, is too small to warrant or tolerate this kind of exclusivity. As a community, we value acceptance and unity, and simply put, any attempt to establish Greek life would be seen as the opposite. Understandably, the administration fears the possibility of fraternities and sororities forming without these gender caps. But in the end, the College has evolved to a point where Greek life is seen as undesirable to the vast majority of the student body.

Gender caps are relics of a past when prejudice was tolerated, self-identity was limited and Greek life was a fear. To progress as both an intellectual and social community, we must question our present policies to see whether they still reflect our values. Clearly, gender caps do not, so let us end this form of discrimination. Live and let live in the dorms we choose.

Diana Chen ’16 is from New York, N.Y. She lives in Armstrong 4.

  • John Doe

    Gender caps exist to keep one house or dorm from becoming a bro-fest. It’s the same reason that we don’t have frats. Now, I would agree. Certain houses attract certain people, and you can’t much stop that, but this means that it is much harder. Certain teams get along with other teams well, and that is fine. They want to throw a banger in the house that they occupy, be my guest, but the college probably won’t appreciate it that much, and you should respect that. It’s an attempt to keep inconveniences down for them and for you. It is far from a perfect system, but it does keep the level of stupid things that happen on campus down, simply because it is harder to organize. Fill a house with a bunch of bros, and you will increase the likelihood that things go down there (I’ve seen it happen with a coop. Not that it wasn’t fun, but messes were made). Not to mention, if you were that last person stuck in the house throwing the X-team/group/affiliation/society banger, you would not be happy at all.

    • Diana C

      Hi John Doe,

      “Gender caps exist to keep one house or dorm from becoming a bro-fest. It’s the same reason that we don’t have frats.”

      We don’t have frats because:

      “1. Fraternities at Williams have come to exercise a disproportionate role in undergraduate life, and as a result the primary education purposes of the College are not being fully recognized.

      2. Long continued delegation to the fraternities by the College of a large part of its responsibility with respect to the housing, eating, and social accommodations of the student body is a major cause of many conditions which are harmful to the education purpose of the College; and early steps should be taken by the College to re-assume this responsibility and integrate these functions into the life of the College, where they properly belong.”

      (Source: http://www.kanecap.com/doc/williams/report_of_the_committee_on.pdf)

      The College eliminated fraternities because they were exclusive, took a disproportionately large role in the social life, and offered services that should be exclusively offered by the College (like dining services).

      Let’s not forget that when frats were eliminated in the early 60s. Women weren’t allowed to attend the College until 1969 (and only as exchange students from other colleges) – by default, the College was a bro-fest.

      What bothers me about your argument is that you do not address any of my points; you only state gender caps should still be enforced to prevent “bangers.” It is still a form of discrimination. People are being barred from dormitories solely for the reason they were either born with a Y chromosome or an extra X chromosome – why is this okay when we would never bar people from a dorm because of their skin color?

      “It’s an attempt to keep inconveniences down for them and for you. It is far from a perfect system, but it does keep the level of stupid things that happen on campus down, simply because it is harder to organize.”

      To have something implemented for the sake that it is convenient is not a very persuasive moral argument. Should we discriminate just because it makes things convenient for the College? Financial aid takes up a significant portion of the budget – hey, let’s stop accepting students who need financial aid because we’re in a recession!

      In the end, yes, we are college students, and yes, some people like to “throw bangers,” but it comes down to students respecting the living spaces of others. We are adults. We have no excuse to dominate other people’s living spaces based on the gender composition of the dorm.

      In the end, the reasons to excuse gender caps are simply not enough to justify this form of discrimination. For that reason, they should be eliminated next year – to continue this policy is to continue prejudice and bias.