The Straight and Narrow: Broadening Horizons

in Editorials | April 21, 2023

Lawrenceville's first batch of female students was admitted in 1987, bringing an end to the 177-year-old all-male legacy and transitioning the School into the co-ed environment it is today. Hooray! Lawrenceville has finally overcome the gender divide and has achieved celestial gender equality: girls and boys collaborate academically around the Harkness table together, eat at the same dining halls, and participate in the same clubs. 
Any student from Lawrenceville, however, can testify that this idea of cohesiveness is not the case. In fact, the inherent nature of the Circle and Crescent system enforces the idea that students can only identify as two genders. Despite the addition of the Crescent over 30 years ago, a distinct divide persists between the two majority genders, facilitated by institutional structures that force students into one of the two binary gender constructs, translating into gendered Houses, sports, and advisory groups. While those from the Crescent and the Circle interact and mingle, they always seem to return to distinct single-gender groups like oil and water. 
To see how this systematic gender separation seeps into our social tendencies, take a look around the Tsai Dining Hall: Even when presented with the opportunity to socialize with the opposite sex, we spontaneously revert back to our single-gender “bubbles”, and a group of “one gender” primarily populates each table.The same is true around the Harkness table; our tendency to divide the Harkness table by gender is so glaring that it is frequently the butt of a teacher’s joke— though we usually respond with blank expressions and silently wait for the topic to change. Any attempt to connect with a friend of the opposite gender and approach their lunch table, or sit on the “wrong” side of the table carries with it a feeling of transgressing some boundary. That’s because the line between Circle and Crescent isn’t contained within the stretch of road that divides them—it exists as an invisible barrier between all of us, everywhere.
This stringent gender divide, partly of which our unconscious habits feed into, contributes to a heteronormative and cissexual student culture. When a Housemate  brings a member of the opposite sex into the House, we commonly throw around sly jokes that insinuates a romantic relationship. Our tendency to view opposite-sex “pairs” through a heteronormative lens reflects the inevitable result of Lawrenceville’s gendered culture, which has also erased any other type of relationship between members of opposite sexes/genders. The binary between the Circle and the Crescent not only leaves no room for non-binary or gender-non-conforming people, but also incentivizes them to conform to the gender stereotypes the Crescent-Circle binary reinforces in order to attain any sense of true “belonging” within Lawrenceville’s culture.   
One reason might be that the systemic separation between members of the Circle and Crescent leads many to form friendships and bond primarily with members of the same sex. Thus, our natural tendency for gender-division is just a result of students wanting to stick to those whom we already know and can befriend easily. However, we must acknowledge how this pervasive separation fosters a student culture that erases any gender identity, sexuality, or relationship that fails to conform to the heronormative and culturally-conservative norms. 
Perhaps the current single gender-housing system in some ways provides a strong foundation for a community that drives the maturation and development of its inhabitants. A suffocating student culture that marginalizes LGBTQ+ identities and expressions conflicts with Lawrenceville’s closely-held virtue of valuing its students’ diverse experiences and viewpoints as a way to present opportunities to learn from one another. 
It is important to acknowledge that the problems described in this editorial are not exclusive to Lawrenceville. The Crescent-Circle binary is a mere vessel for a heteronormative and cis-normative culture that pervades our general society. Furthermore, it is also important to acknowledge the potential pitfalls of effective measures we can take. Gender-neutral housing and facilities could better reflect the diversity of the student body and eliminate the distinction between “girls and boys'' that alienates those who don’t fit into the binary. Gender-neutral Houses could only further alienate LGBTQ+ people from the rest of campus without first remedying the campus’ heteronormativity. We need to recognize this harmful culture and reimagine the house system in a way that strikes a balance between the benefits and detriments of single-gender housing. Our community must discuss and reexamine the binary system, acknowledging the limitations it places on all students. Only this way can we truly create the community Lawrenceville desires.