The Office of Student Life (OSL) maintains that no more than 60 percent of occupants of an upperclass residence hall may be of the same gender. OSL obtains its gender information from the Office of the Registrar, whose data reflects the male or female designation students select on the Common Application based on their assignment at birth. This system should be revised to reflect students’ preferred genders rather than their assigned gender to avoid perpetuating the gender binary.
The College is in a transitional period in which it is increasingly moving away from the gender binary. Recently, selection for Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-Years (WOOLF) leaders and Junior Advisors (JAs) have been modified to no longer require gendered pairs. It is important that the College proceed with these efforts, and the housing system is a logical next step.
A gender cap based on assigned gender at birth can impact where students are permitted to live. For example, a student born but not identifying as male cannot pick into a dorm which has hit the male gender cap. At the same time, a student born but not identifying as male adds to the male gender cap in their dorm, potentially preventing an additional male-identifying student from living there. These issues will become more pressing in coming years when the College plans to close dorms for renovations, reducing the number of beds available to upperclass students and increasing the likelihood of dorms reaching gender caps.
A potential solution to eliminating the gender binary in upperclass housing is dissolving the gender cap entirely; however, a gender cap, in some form, is valuable. A cap deters single-gender groups, including sports teams, from monopolizing a dorm, which could make students not part of the group feel unwelcome and alienated. Furthermore, a single-gender house dominated by one organization could create a frat-like atmosphere.
Instead, OSL should maintain the gender cap but count occupants by their preferred gender, not birth gender. For incoming students, the Office of Admissions can provide the data to the Registrar that it began collecting for the Class of 2021 on incoming students’ preferred genders. For current students, the Registrar could allow them to submit preferred genders if they wish to alter them from their genders assigned at birth.
OSL also provides rosters to all room-draw participants that display the gender of each student next to their name and room number. The gender of a particular student does not convey any meaningful information about where another student should choose to live, and students may not wish their preferred gender to be displayed so publicly. Therefore, OSL need not display the gender of each student on these spreadsheets. Rather, OSL should have an aggregate total at the bottom of the rosters so that students know whether the house is approaching the enumerated gender cap.
While a gender cap may contribute to improving the College’s quality of upperclass housing, OSL could improve its current execution by moving away from the gender binary.