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Yale to offer single-gender housing after Muslim students voiced concerns

Students advocated for the single-gender spaces as a religious exemption

Yale College students have the option of requesting single-gender on-campus housing and bathrooms for the 2023-24 school year following weeks of demands from religious students and allies.

Dean of Students Melanie Boyd announced that Yale would provide single gender housing options in an email mid-March, The Yale Daily News reported March 10.

Current Yale Housing residents had to submit their “housing intent” form by March 10 for the 2023-24 academic year, according to Yale’s website. The 2023-24 Housing Application is due April 1.

Advocates of single-gender housing framed it as a religious exemption that “disproportionately affects Muslim students,” according to an open letter submitted to the housing office.

“The Yale College Housing Office is in charge of housing for the entire College, with the goal of standardizing the selection process,” the letter stated. “However, Yale does not appear to deem religious accommodations a necessary part of this standard.”

“Often, [Muslim students] succumb to being pushed to off-campus housing, at a rate higher than their non-Muslim peers,” the letter continued. “Students who remain on campus are forced to change their habits to avoid sacrificing their core beliefs.”

“Without single-gender bathrooms, Muslim women are forced to be on guard and wear a hijab, even during times when they normally would not: just taking a shower or going to the bathroom becomes a stressful and inconvenient burden, taking a toll on their mental health,” the authors wrote. “Living quarters become a space of anxiety, not rest.”

Without single-gender bathrooms, Muslim students also could not perform wudu, a ritual purification using water that requires removal of the hijab, according to the letter.

“If Muslim women are not able to remove their hijab because of the mixed-gender bathrooms, they cannot perform wudu, and, as a result, they cannot fulfill their obligatory daily prayer,” the letter stated. “Mandatory mixed-gender bathrooms directly interfere with students’ right to their religious practices,” the letter’s authors wrote.

The open letter called for “recognizing and guaranteeing religious accommodations as a formal part of the housing process.”

Dozens of Yale student organizations signed the letter, including religious groups Muslim Students Association, Orthodox Jews at Yale, and the Black Muslim Students Association.

The letter was also signed by a number of racial and ethnic affinity groups, such as the Asian American Student Alliance, Black Women’s Coalition, and the Native and Indigenous Student Association at Yale, as well as by the Queer Student Alliance and the Young Democratic Socialists of America.

No identifiably Christian groups signed the open letter.

The Yale Daily News reported that Yale already had designated single-gender restrooms on some mixed gender floors as religious exemptions for students.

However, “sometimes males on the floor ignored the ‘women identifying only’ paper sign out of convenience, not knowing it was meant to accommodate for religious purposes,” Yale student Noor Kareem, an advocate of single-sex floors, told the Daily News on Feb. 16.

“Multiple occasions have led us to constantly feel anxious and uncomfortable, even in the female designated bathroom,” Kareem said.

President Zahra Yarali of Yale’s Muslim Student Association told the Daily News that the new policy “was the result of meetings between students Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis and [Dean of Student Affairs Melanie] Boyd.”

The College Fix reached out to the Muslim Student Association and to Omer Bajwa, director of Muslim student life, to ask for comment on the new policy. It has not received a response.

“I was really happy because the administration listened to our requests, even if not immediately, and that our practices were respected and that meant a lot,” Sabrina Zbar, an Orthodox Jewish student who had also advocated for single-gender accommodations, told The News, according to the March 10 article.

The College Fix called Yale’s Office of Communications to ask whether transgender students will be allowed to use the floors corresponding to their self-declared gender and was told to email the university instead. The Fix emailed the university with the same question, and asked how religious students might be impacted by the decision. It has not received a response.

MORE: Swarthmore College trans, non-binary students feel ‘uncomfortable’ in campus housing

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About the Author
John Macejka -- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill