If you’re riding in a single-engine plane, your pilot dies, and you need advice on the fly on how to fly, call Caitlin Seele.
If you need advice about gender neutral housing, also call Caitlin Seele. She’s a woman of varied interests.
When, three years ago, she was a freshman in the Boston University Student Government (StuGov) Executive Staff program, Seele (SMG’14) encountered the working idea of gender neutral housing through a senior StuGov member who would graduate without enough time to pursue the project.
In the same year, Seele witnessed the plight of a friend who struggled with his same-sex rooming assignment.
“Going through the tragic housing cycle freshman year, he had no one to live with, no one wanted to move off campus with him because of the way our friend group worked out, and it really generally sucked,” says Seele. “I don’t think there’s a better word for it.”
This confluence of events led to Seele championing the gender neutral housing cause.
In practice, gender neutral housing would allow members of the opposite sex to live in the same living space on campus, an option that could benefit many, including members of the LGBTQ community who could otherwise be placed in an uncomfortable living situation or people who would just much rather live with an opposite-sex friend.
As Director of the Department of Advocacy for two years and chief architect behind the project for three, Seele has endured quite the share of administrative whiplash. In the project’s formative years, Seele got accustomed to dealing with what she calls “the BU Bounce.”
“It’s where they bounce you around from administrator to administrator times infinity. You’d set up a meeting with one person and you’d get it rescheduled maybe 10 times over the course of the month,” explains Seele. “By the time you meet them, it’s a month and a half later, the semester’s ending, and you’re going home for break.”
After mostly solving the “BU Bounce” by assuaging faculty with a spring 2012 survey highlighting an outpouring of support, the next obstacle came after the Boston University administration appeared to approve the initiative in October 2012, only to months later put it on indefinite hiatus.
Outrage manifested as a controversial sit-in inside President Brown’s office by activist group “Gender Neutral BU” in December 2012.
“Sending that message is probably something I wouldn’t have ever done,” says Seele. “It wasn’t a risk I would have taken. So I say kudos to them to have the guts to do that. At the end of the day, it did prove a point.”
The hiatus gave Seele an additional hurdle. She would have to manage yet another attempt at gender neutral housing while studying abroad in London.
From across the pond, Seele couldn’t as easily manage the project’s direction, tone, message, and the student outrage surrounding the hiatus.
For nearly eight months, the Dept. of Advocacy and gender neutral housing’s allies worked towards the cause with little indication towards success. The announcement of it’s reinstatement caught Seele off-guard.
“I was so excited,” says Seele. “I was volunteering at an orientation session and I was jumping up and down.”
Having already registered for housing, students were given the option to direct swap into an opposite-sex housing situation in any of the non-dormitory style residences. The spring 2014 semester was the first to allow students to register in gender neutral rooms.
Reflecting on the experience, Seele expressed gratitude for the support gender neutral housing garnered from those outside of StuGov.
“It’s just a really cool feeling to have students come into the Student Government office and say ‘I just wanted to thank you guys!’” says Seele. “They’d come in the office and chat with us. It was cool to see people as excited as I was.”
With graduation looming, Seele hopes the project that she and others have worked so hard for doesn’t disappear from public consciousness.
“I truly hope that students stay aware of it and take advantage of the system,” says Seele. “And I really hope that we were able to save some people from transferring away.”
Caitlin thanks: the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism; Ariana Katz; Alyssa Sarkis; and D.A. Whatley.
Written by Jon Christianson