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.