After several years of discussion and a strong push from student leaders, SUNY New Paltz will have gender-neutral housing next semester.
Announced at last week’s cabinet meeting, three gender-neutral suites will be available in Bevier Hall next fall. These suites will allow students of any gender or gender identity to live in rooms together.
While we at The New Paltz Oracle applaud the administration for taking this step and listening to student voices, we hope they understand the urgent need for these options and that, regardless of whether or not the trial run is deemed as a success or a failure, they will always be necessary.
It is SUNY New Paltz’s duty to ensure all students on this campus can feel this is a safe and comfortable environment. If there is no adequate housing for all transgender students and students who do not identify with a specific gender, then this school has not done its job.
We are proud that the school has gone further than offering gender-mixed suites and has decided to offer truly gender-neutral residence options. It is essential that students feel their home is a safe, secure place that validates and accommodates their identity.
Although we understand starting small, the overwhelming need for this housing should not be overlooked if issues arise and the administration deems it unsuccessful. Even if gender-neutral housing does not work for all students, there will always be a population of students who desperately require this security.
Transgender students constantly struggle with threats of physical and emotional violence, and it is this institution’s job to do everything possible to make this campus a place where students can be themselves without fear of harm.
To take away gender-neutral housing if it does not work as planned would be actively working against the serious needs of these students. Forcing a transgender student or a student who does not idenitfy as a specific gender to live in the same room as someone of the same legal biological sex completely disregards and invalidates their identity, thus taking a severe psychological toll and negatively impacting their productivity and experience at SUNY New Paltz.
Gender-neutral housing is not like a class that you try out to see if it should be offered again. It must always be offered because students are always going to need it, whether that group be big or small. The number of students who require this type of housing does not determine whether the housing should be available nor does it minimize the dire need.
Every student at this college deserves an enjoyable, safe and validating experience. Every student deserves to feel good about themselves and has the right to live in a place that accepts and embraces them. This is not idealistic, nor is it impossible.
These initial suites are a valiant effort and a good start, but they must continue to have them and hopefully expand to include them in multiple buildings to allow students a greater choice in their housing.
Of course there may be bumps in the road, as there are with the introduction of anything new, but by no means should gender-neutral housing be entirely removed. This need cannot be ignored and the college must do whatever they can to make this housing viable and effective.
We also believe it is crucial that LGBTQ students receive priority when signing up for these suites, as they should be reserved for those who need them most in order to feel safe and accepted in this community.
The development of these gender-neutral suites is without a doubt an achievement on the part of the administration and the students who fought to make it a reality, but it is just the first stride. We urge everyone to take the time to educate themselves to better understand the significane of this issue and housing, so that eventually this campus can be a positive and safe place for students of all gender identities.