Students had the option to live in gender-neutral housing in the residential colleges for the first time this academic year. The program, which allows students to live with roommates of the opposite gender, is popular with students who choose it, though some suggested certain improvements.
For Brenaea Fairchild ’16, who lives in Butler College, gender-neutral housing is a necessity.
“I am married, and so I wanted to live with my husband obviously,” she explained, adding that the situation wasn’t perfect. “The residential colleges don’t really fit the needs of a married couple.”
Fairchild said the couple has difficulty sharing the college’s communal kitchen, among other disadvantages. She does not regret the decision to live in gender-neutral housing, she explained, as her commitment to her marriage is what allows her deal with issues that arise.
“If you are not married, you don’t have that commitment of knowing you are going to work through this no matter what,” Fairchild said. She suggests that couples should only live in gender-neutral housing if they have a commitment to making things work. “Living with someone, even of the same sex, is a lot of work because of the demands of Princeton.”
Currently 56 students live in gender-neutral housing, according to information provided by Manager of Undergraduate Housing Angela Hodgeman, who declined to comment further. Of these, 20 live in upperclass dorms, 18 live in the residential colleges and 18 live in quad rooms in Spelman Halls.
Gender-neutral housing began as a pilot program in the 2010-11 academic year, making Princeton the fifth Ivy League school to offer a mixed-gender housing option. It was limited to the Spelman at that time.
In 2012, gender-neutral housing available for upperclassmen was expanded to 278 beds. Expanding the policy to the residential colleges has attracted both upperclassmen and underclassmen. Among the 18 gender-neutral occupants in the residential colleges, five are sophomores, 10 are juniors and three are seniors. The option is currently not available to freshmen, who are not able to choose their roommates.
Among students who have opted for the program, couples like Fairchild and her husband are certainly not the norm. Most gender-neutral occupants are mixed-gender groups of friends, rather than people in romantic relationships, according to Melody Edwards ’15, who lives in gender-neutral housing in Spelman.
“For me, it is just kind of a pragmatic choice, rather than feeling more comfortable living in a gender-neutral context,” Edwards said. She explained that she chose her housing based on who she most wanted to live with, not based on whether those people were male or female.
Edwards said that she supports the expansion to the residential colleges, but is disappointed that the program requires that all bedrooms be singles. For example, a draw group of two men and two women would not have the option of living in a quad with double rooms, she pointed out.