After years of student activism in support of the change, the Department of Residence Life will be offering gender-neutral housing options for next year.
Rafael Calderon, coordinator of housing operations, announced in a campus-wide email last Friday that Bevier 112, Lefevre 111 and Lefevre 301 will be converted to gender-neutral suites. This gives 20 students the chance to live in suites with rooms for both males and females.
While he said he is unsure of what the demand for gender-neutral housing options will be in the future, the Department of Residence Life is open to expanding offerings in the coming years.
“We figured we’d take this little step first,” Calderon said. “If it works out well, we’ll add more for the following year.”
The proposal to allow gender-neutral housing was brought to President Donald Christian’s cabinet by Student Association (SA) Executive Vice President Eve Stern last week. She said she has been researching the subject for two years to figure out a way to bring it to SUNY New Paltz.
Stern said when she took up this initiative, she began looking into ways schools like SUNY Geneseo and others set up gender-neutral housing which helped her formulate a proposal to bring to administrators. The last step of this process was administering a survey to students.
After being open for approximately two weeks, 1,042 students responded to the survey by the time it closed last week with generally positive reactions to the idea of gender-neutral housing, Stern said.
“I was very happy with the results,” she said. “The thing that I think I was most interested about was in the open response question because 973 people took the time to write a word or even a paragraph. I felt like that was most insightful because it really gave me a good feeling of how students thought of this.”
The survey results indicated 61.8 percent of students who responded would be “very comfortable” living on a campus in which gender-neutral housing was offered, whereas 1.9 percent said they would not be comfortable at all.
Stern compiled all of the survey results and her own personal research in a presentation for the president’s cabinet last Thursday.
Christian said the results of the survey, in addition to discussions he’s had with members of SA, his student advisory group and others convinced college officials gender-neutral housing options should be available on campus.
“We have heard from students and I think the survey SA sent out really showed that students are interested in this and that they seem to be mature on how they think about it,” he said.
Calderon said suite-style rooms were chosen to be gender neutral because they have private bathrooms.
Signups for the rooms began on Monday. He said students who already signed up for another room during housing registration, which began on April 7, could be removed from their other room assignment and replaced in a gender-neutral suite if they wanted.
Calderon said 10 of the 20 spots in the gender-neutral suites have been filled as of Tuesday. He said he is “kind of disappointed that only half of the spots” were filled at that point.
“The students have been on it for years about us doing this so I thought the first day everything was going to be filled,” he said.
Students will have the chance to sign up for a room in these suites by May 1, or until all spots are filled on a first come, first serve basis, Calderon said.
In his campus-wide email, Calderon said, “a male and a female student may not live in the same bedroom,” but only in the same suite. Other schools like SUNY Geneseo, which has offered gender-neutral housing options since fall 2009, allows male and female students to live either in the same suite or the same bedroom according to their gender-neutral housing suite application for 2012-13.
Christian said college officials wanted to mirror the approach many other colleges took in offering gender-neutral housing.
“We want to proceed incrementally and in small steps to provide these opportunities and assess as we go along what the challenges might be,” he said.
Stern said she is glad the school decided to take these steps because she thinks gender-neutral housing could allow students in the LGBTQ community to feel more comfortable living on campus.
When she was formulating the survey, Stern said she consulted alumni involved in the Queer Action Coalition and other student groups because she wanted to talk to people who were involved with the New Paltz LGBTQ community. She said she hopes gender-neutral housing options would help some students feel less afraid of having a homophobic roommate or, if they identify as transgender, going to the bathroom.
“Even though gender-neutral housing isn’t only focused on the LGBTQ community because gender neutrality is for everyone, my main focus was in a way for that community because I wanted people to feel safe on our campus,” she said. “Where you live on campus is your home, and if you have to live with a roommate or a suitemate that’s not comfortable with how you identify or your lifestyle can really affect how you function.”
Calderon said if transgender students are not comfortable with these or other housing offerings, the Department of Residence Life would find a way to make them feel safe living on campus.
“We have always worked with transgender students on a case by case basis to find the most comfortable living option for the individual student and will continue to do so,” he said.
Students interested in living in a gender-neutral suite should report to Residence Life offices with their student identification card as soon as possible, Calderon said.