With nearly 60 percent of our LGBTQ classmates reporting discrimination on campus and with many of our peer universities considering — and implementing — the policy of gender-neutral housing, it’s time for Georgetown to do the same.
Georgetown’s emphasis on community should not stop short of embracing the inclusive ideals for which we stand. Our diverse community is a blessing, but the sense of inclusiveness that unites us as one campus is not simply something that is in vogue among our generation. Our university’s mission statement calls for us to be steadfast in “our commitment to justice and the common good.”
When it comes to our LGBTQ and gender nonconforming communities, there is no better way to follow our mission than to ensure safety — and, just as important, comfort — in their housing options. It’s only a small step towards the acceptance that LGBTQ students deserve, but such a policy will greatly benefit students who today feel marginalized or unsafe in their dorm rooms.
I understand and wholeheartedly value Georgetown’s Jesuit identity. I am fully cognizant of the reservations some on campus may have about gender-neutral housing. However, we are also an institution of rational, progressive thinkers, and we must maintain our tradition of tolerant intellectualism. The best way for Georgetown to be a center for thought and learning is to uphold the Jesuit values of tolerance and understanding.
These values alone call for a change in our housing policy, but we must also recognize that the Hilltop is not a solitary institution. Our peer schools, such as Duke, Harvard, North Carolina, New York University, Penn, Princeton and Stanford, have all adopted gender-neutral housing. It would be a mistake for Georgetown to not consider competitiveness in this regard.
In that examination, opponents are sure to raise concerns that heterosexual couples will take advantage of this policy to live with each other. I find this to be unlikely, especially if the school requires an application for students seeking to live with a member of the opposite sex. Even if the occasional crafty heterosexual couple were able to live together, this concern does not outweigh the benefits of a policy change. Simply put, if we can help one student live free of discrimination or fear, we should do so.
And while logistical challenges, such as limited on-campus housing space, might delay the immediate implementation of a gender-neutral policy, the university should make the change expeditiously.
The administration won’t, however, move without a push from the student body. A strong statement from students is necessary, which is why I support a referendum on the issue. I am sensitive to the concerns that minority rights should never rest at the whim of majority rule, but a public debate on the issue would help change minds.
Just as the Out for Change campaign convinced the campus to embrace the creation of the LGBTQ Resource Center, a referendum campaign on gender-neutral housing would bring the issue into the mainstream consciousness and, hopefully, acceptance.
Indeed, the election last year of Clara Gustafson and Vail Kohnert-Yount, who ran for the GUSA executive on themes of equality and social justice, demonstrates student support for changes in the way our campus addresses LGBTQ issues.
Despite what would surely be a contentious discussion, Georgetown will not make any progress on this issue until it is put on the front burner. Once there, we can start changing minds and convincing the administration to act.
President John J. DeGioia and his staff also have a reason to advance this issue. With a strong mandate for gender-neutral housing, Georgetown would cement its position as a Catholic institution at the vanguard of ensuring equality.
Robert Silverstein is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.