Gender-Neutral Suites To Open In Fall 2013

Photo By Robin Weinstein

Beginning next semester, there will be three gender-neutral suites in Bevier Hall, according to Coordinator for Housing Options Rafael Calderon.

The suites will differ from the “gender-mixed” suites currently available in LeFevre Hall, which will be moved to Dubois Hall in the fall, and the co-ed floor in Gage Hall, Calderon said.

“We’re going to have real gender-neutral suites where guys and girls, trangender students, whoever, any gender, any gender identity, they can live in the same bedrooms together,” he said.

As of now, Calderon said there will probably be two six-person suites and either a four or an eight-person suite. He said there was an interest in the suites even before they were finalized, and as such, they are essentially already filled for next year.

Though student voices played a part in the development of gender-neutral housing, at this point, Calderon said they have been discussing the possibility for three or four years.

Because there are not many “good examples” of how to coordinate gender-neutral housing within the SUNY system, Calderon said these first three suites will test the success of the new option.

“A lot of the decisions we make we have to make based on what the four-year SUNY schools do,” Calderon said. “If we find that it works out and there are no issues and we end up expanding then it will be open to everybody, but another thing that needs to be made clear is that this is just a trial run to see if this is feasible on this campus.”

Fourth-year Womens, Gender and Sexuality Studies major Cody Hill said even if the housing does not work well for all students, he hopes the administration will not overlook the pressing need that will still exist.

“Gender-neutral housing is still going to be necessary for transgender students, that’s not debatable or excusable, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly with cisgender students, I would hope the administration would have enough sense not to revoke truly gender-neutral housing once it is given to us next semester,” he said. “If it is not accessible to all transgender students living on campus, then the point has been sorely missed.”

Student Senator Zachary Rousseas said he saw the current gender-mixed suites as a “failed attempt” at gender-neutral housing because they do not go by what gender the students identify with and are not available to freshmen. However, he said he is happy this next step is being taken and hopes it will be open to more students who need it.

“I’m really glad that there will be some actual gender-neutral housing options, and I hope LGBTQ students will be given priority here, especially trans students,” Rousseas said. “I hope that these housing options will be offered to first-year students because it is absolutely crucial that first-years feel like SUNY New Paltz can be a safe space for them. Because they are young, college is a whole new transition for them, and their place of residence may not be a safe space for them, so they need these options.”

Hill said he believes it is paramount to have housing where gender is irrelevant for transgender students, who he said must constantly fight to self-identify and struggle with living in a place that discredits who they are.

It is a lack of understanding and urgency that contributes to the challenge of having gender-neutral housing instated, as well as the small population affected by these issues Hill said.

“They think that we’re exaggerating when we say we’re in physical danger to be a visibly trans person in gendered space. It’s not only uncomfortable, but it is psychological violence to constantly have our gender identities invalidated and people who aren’t trans can never understand the severity of that,” Hill said. “If there’s only a handful of outspoken trans activists and we’re the same people that have outspoken on other issues, then they don’t see it as that important because it doesn’t necessarily ‘serve the whole student body.’”

Executive Director for Compliance and Campus Climate Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn said the LGBTQ survey done a little more than a year ago really showed that “at least a segment of our campus population” does not feel they have enough institutional support for the way they live their lives.

Although she does not feel the new housing will be the “silver bullet” that deals with all the issues of  the affected community, she said it is important that a step is taken so it can be built upon in order to fulfill that need.

“If this starts to help to answer those concerns and provide a better environment for our students, all over, if it makes everybody feel a little safer, a little better about being here, more productive in doing their work, that’s a good step,” she said.

In regards to gender or sexual identity harassment, Pacheco-Dunn said she does not think one act will stop these types of problems, but in recognizing actions that can be taken against them, they can be helped. While not all attempts will better the situation, doing nothing is not a solution either, she said.

Similar to issues surrounding communities that feel a racial or ethnic bias, she said it’s “one victory at a time” and it all comes down to education and helping others to respect your belief, rather than changing their’s.

“There are a lot of people that don’t know why this is of a concern to this population and if they knew it they might better understand it. They might not agree with it, but they need better understanding and I think that’s ultimately what we’re here for,” Pacheco-Dunn said. “The whole concept of going to college is to get a better understanding about what you don’t know and about who you want to be as a person and I think that every time you reach out on these types of issues, which are deeply personal, you educate people and I think you make great strides.”