Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors at Harvard have been able to opt for gender-neutral housing since 2014, though this option has not been extended to incoming freshmen. This may change in the coming months.
Administrators have yet to release details on how the gender-neutral campus housing for freshmen would operate, but if it follows the model that currently exists for upperclassmen, it means that students of all gender identities will be able "to room together in whatever combination the individuals choose," the Crimson wrote.
“Gender inclusive housing acknowledges and affirms gender diversity as a critical aspect of our campus community, and we are excited about our efforts to expand our current offerings to include first-year students," Harvard spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman wrote in a statement.
He added that administrators are currently working with several undergraduate students on the University's plans for the new set-up.
The University's decision comes after a year-long effort from several student groups to expand Harvard's gender-neutral housing program. In 2017, following calls from Harvard's Transgender Task Force, two administrative departments, the Freshman Dean’s Office and the BGLTQ Office, formed a committee that came up with proposals to provide gender-neutral housing for first-year students.
At a panel last year, leaders of the committee released a statement explaining that because students may be under the age of 18 when they first arrive on campus, their "underage status could complicate the College’s decision to offer mixed-gender housing," the Crimson reported.
At Penn, students under 18 can only be considered for gender neutral housing if parental consent is given. It's not immediately clear how this legal complication will be handled at Harvard moving forward.
Harvard's decision to expand its gender-neutral housing program gestures towards an ongoing trend in higher education to make this option more accessible to students. The nonprofit organization Campus Pride lists 265 universities that currently offer gender-inclusive housing, which they define as housing where "students can have a roommate of any gender."
While all eight Ivy League universities are on this list, Penn was the first among its Ivy peers to offer the option in the school year of 2005-2006. In 2011, Penn also became the first in the Ivy League to offer gender-neutral housing to incoming freshmen.