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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Progress doesn’t make perfect

Progress+doesn%E2%80%99t+make+perfect

Steps remain for gender-inclusive housing policy

Next year, St. Joe’s will begin offering a gender-inclusive housing program, joining several other institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. First-year students who identify as transgender or gender non-binary will have the option of living in a suite in LaFarge Residence Center, while sophomores and older will be able to live with any student of the opposite gender as long as all residents agree to the housing arrangement.

The new policy, developed by the Transgender Working Group, the Office of Residence Life and University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., has been in development for five years and marks a monumental step forward for the university. Still, it is not without its flaws.

Students applying to live in campus housing during the 2019-2020 academic year will not see gender-inclusive housing explicitly outlined as option. Regardless of the recent major policy change, the housing application will remain the same, prompting transgender students to contact Residence Life if their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender youth are among the most vulnerable populations in the LGBTQ community, and policies impacting them must be crafted with attention to their current realities.

A 2018 survey by the University of Arizona, Tucson found that transgender teenagers attempted suicide at rates up to five times higher than their cisgender peers.

A professor who worked on the study cited familial rejection as one of the major risk factors for transgender youth experiencing suicidal ideation.

Transgender students who are not yet out to their parents, or who have parents not supportive of their transitions, would need to risk being outed just to identify themselves as transgender to Residence Life. This holdover from the previous policy could place transgender students at risk in their home living arrangements.

It also places a substantial emotional burden on these students to speak to someone they have never met about their personal identities before they may have come out to their parents and close friends.

Residence Life has said that it will designate one person to speak with transgender students about housing concerns, which is certainly an improvement over the previous policy. Yet it remains an outmoded and potentially harmful arrangement that should be phased out.

The university’s explanation that students often check boxes on the housing agreement and then change their minds or don’t follow through with that designation may be true, but it does not hold up in relation to an issue of this magnitude.

Students who express interest in participating with a gender-inclusive housing program may do so to support a friend, but the program was designed specifically for transgender students. The program allows transgender students to live with roommates and have more autonomy in selecting campus housing (under the previous policy, transgender students were administratively placed in available housing assignments).

A box on a form may not seem like it would make much of a difference, but it helps to protect the privacy of a vulnerable group of students for whom this new policy was enacted. After the logistical challenges of implementing the new policy have settled, the university needs to consider input from the transgender students it serves in making any necessary changes.

The new policy, while not perfect, does get a few things right. Allowing students in their sophomore year or above to live with roommates of any gender, as Residence Life will do on a case-by-case basis, is a substantial and forward-thinking change.

It permits transgender students to live with chosen roommates in any residence hall on campus, mitigating the social isolation effect of the previous policy and allowing them freedom of choice. Restricting all transgender students to a single building or wing would be socially isolating and exclusionary.

However, the suite option offered to transgender first-year students in LaFarge Residence Center acknowledges that safety on college campuses is still a concern for transgender students. A campus-wide, gender-inclusive housing policy should be our ultimate goal, but such a policy may not jive with current social realities.

The strengths of this new policy should not distract from the work which still needs to be done on behalf of transgender students at St. Joe’s. Let’s get started.

—The Editorial Board

This week’s Editorial Board is comprised of the Editor in Chief, Managing Editor, Opinions Editor, Assistant Opinions Editor, Editorial Page Editor, News Editor, Lifestyle Editor and Assistant Lifestyle Editor. This editorial reflects the views of the Board and not the entire Hawk Staff.

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