There are currently 38 schools in the United States that offer gender-neutral housing. Student Association (SA) Executive Vice President Eve Stern is hoping that SUNY New Paltz will be added to the list.
At one of the most recent senate meetings, Stern brought up the topic of gender-neutral housing at New Paltz and is planning to put out a survey for students in an effort to get their feedback on the matter. Stern is putting the survey out with the help of Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Ray Schwarz.
Stern said she has been researching the idea since last semester.
“I’ve been creating a proposal for gender-neutral housing and I’m kind of right now trying to just get the survey out so I can continue,” said Stern. “If the feedback comes from the survey that students on campus wouldn’t live there and would feel uncomfortable with that housing being available, there’s no point in me continuing.”
Stern said she has been talking with other student groups on campus and said the feedback she has received has been positive, with some groups wanting to know more about the process and what would happen if the new housing option were made possible.
Stern has looked at models of SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Purchase and Stony Brook University, who have already implemented gender-neutral housing options, for ways to go about setting up a working system at New Paltz. At Geneseo, there is a designated dorm for people interested in the option.
The gender-neutral housing is suite-style, where both sexes live in the same suite, but share their own individual room with a member of the same sex. Stern said she feels this defeats the purpose and hopes that if New Paltz does take on the new housing system, they will “go all the way.” However, this will be up to the discretion of the administration.
Schwarz and Vice President of Student Affairs David Rooney said that they are only in the exploration stage, and in the process of “due diligence and information gathering.”
“We don’t know what the concerns are going to be which is why we’re putting out the survey,” said Rooney. “You want to get the broadest array of responses. There are going to be people in favor of it and people not in favor of it. We’re probably as curious as you are as to what the school’s reaction is going to be.”
According to Stern, she and Schwarz discussed that if a survey is going to be put out, it had to be fair to students who may not feel comfortable with the idea of gender-neutral housing. In the survey, Stern plans to ask students their sex and sexual orientation. She will also ask students if they would live in a gender-neutral residence hall and if they would be comfortable with the fact that a gender -neutral dorm would be on campus.
“At our school, the administration is going to have to decide: do we want this on our campus as corridor or suite style, and if we do suite style, should students be allowed to share the same rooms?” said Stern.
Rooney and Schwarz are looking at the situation “slowly and carefully,” as to make sure that this controversial topic will not send people such as students, parents and community members into an uproar.
“We’ve been doing this long enough to know that you’ll spend more time reacting to the reaction than you will planning what you were intending to do in the first place,” said Rooney.
Schwarz said that while they are currently in just the exploration phase, that the ultimate decision will be based on what the students’ want.
“It isn’t about [our] personal feelings, it’s about personal commitment to our job which is connected to working for students and paying attention to what their needs and issues are,” said Schwarz.
Fourth-year secondary education major Sam Gilbert said that he believes the idea of gender -neutral housing at New Paltz would be a good idea.
“I don’t know if it will make that much of a difference with boy and girl hallways being next to each other, but I definitely like the idea,” said Gilbert.
Stern said her goal is for the administration to say “yes” to the plan by the time she graduates at the end of this year and hopes to get the survey out as soon as possible.
“If I really come into meeting’s prepared and I’m on my game, there should be no reason for this to not get passed,” said Stern.