Stepping In The Right Direction

When one student organization began pushing for gender-neutral housing to be offered at SUNY New Paltz, students in three of the four undergraduate cohorts were still in high school. But thanks to the efforts of dedicated student leaders over the years, progress has been actualized.

A campus-wide email recently announced that three suites in Bevier and Lefevre Halls will be converted into gender-neutral residences come fall 2012. We at The New Paltz Oracle would like to praise the students who worked to make this happen and the college officials who understood the high value we would place on such a change. We feel it is a small but
necessary step in the right direction.

Past Student Association (SA) members and organizations associated with the LGBTQ community have championed this cause for years, but officials are finally taking action. SA Executive Vice President Eve Stern has been researching gender-neutral housing for two years by looking at other SUNY schools, such as Purchase and Geneseo, that have been utilizing this innovative housing and also spoke to alumni from the LGBTQ community.

With the help of Jacqueline Andrews from Institutional Research and Ray Schwarz from Student Affairs, a survey was sent out to the entire New Paltz campus regarding gender-neutral housing. More than 1,000 people responded and over 900 people answered with comments about why people thought gender-neutral housing was important.

We applaud the students who took the time to answer these questions and explain why they think these offerings would make the campus a better place. The number of surveys taken and the lengths the respondents went to answer open questions apparently played a roll in administrators’ decision to implement these offerings. Our voices were heard, as they should be.

Stern should also be commended for putting the survey together and putting her research into a proposal to be presented to the president of the college. Gender-neutral housing options would not be allowed without such a formal presentation, and a professional and impressive one at that. Her hard work paid off, and we as a student body should be grateful.

We are happy that as a campus community, it seems to be accepted that students should be able to live with people they are comfortable living with regardless of gender. The offering of gender-neutral suites is a baby step in the right direction; however, we hope students and college officials will continue to focus on this issue and expand offerings as necessary.

One of the biggest reasons for gender-neutral housing is safety. Many students have expressed concern that they do not feel comfortable using bathrooms that are divided into gender binaries. Others fear that roommates may not accept their gender identity. Something needed to change.

Changes are in store for the campus, but more could always be done. The new offerings still confine men to live with men and women to live with women in the same room. While it is unclear whether or not state or SUNY regulations could prevent this from happening, we would hope that SUNY New Paltz officials would consider allowing people to share rooms with anyone they want as it is at SUNY Geneseo. This would make transgender students or others who are unsure of how to define themselves more comfortable when signing up for a room.

Ultimately, implementing gender-neutral housing should make students feel more free and comfortable while living on campus. We hope these offerings could be the first of many that could make students feel better about living on campus at SUNY New Paltz.