In a move that feels like it should’ve come an awful lot sooner, Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy Andover — two of the nation’s most elite and prestigious boarding schools —will convert some of their single sex housing into gender-neutral dorms to better accommodate the needs of their transgender students.
NPR News reports that in the fall, a few dorms at Exeter and Andover will be newly designated as gender neutral in a move that will break the long-standing tradition of separating students by sex. In the new gender-neutral dorms, each student will have their own room but the bathrooms will be communal, with changing areas off of each shower for privacy, so that students no longer have to walk back and forth from their dorm rooms in their towels clutching a shower caddy.
The decision to do so is two years in the making, sparked by a conversation Exeter English teacher Alex Myers had with a group of transgender students and gender non-conforming students about how their experience at the school could be improved.
“Consistently, what came up as ‘what needs work’ was housing,” says Myers. “If you don’t understand yourself to be a girl or a boy, living in a space that’s designated just for boys or just for girls feels really uncomfortable.”
Myers was the first openly transgender student at Exeter, arriving on campus over 20 years ago as Alice and ending his time there as Alex. He lived in a girls’ dorm for the duration of his time; despite the support he received from the school, “there were people in the dorm who were rude, for want of a better term,” he told NPR. Previously, transgender students were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The decision to designate gender-neutral housing for students is an important step towards making transgender students feel more comfortable and thankfully has been met with little resistance.
Head of School at Phillips Andover John Palfrey told NPR that the “dorms are consistent with the school’s values.”
“Our idea is to bring young people from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all backgrounds — and, frankly, from all gender and sexuality backgrounds. So I see this as entirely in keeping with our long tradition.”
And, he says, there hasn’t been any pushback. “The reaction to this announcement has been 100 percent positive.”
While neither school allows their students to be interviewed by NPR, a survey conducted by Myers at Exeter revealed that 90 percent of the student body felt positively about the changes—really, an incredible thing.