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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Investigating inclusivity on St. Joe’s campus

Students challenge heteronormativity in Student Handbook


Hailey Miller, ’18, co-leader of SJU Pride, believes that the Saint Joseph’s University Student Handbook is misinformed in regard to its representation of inclusion and diversity. Miller’s feelings derive from the policies that she deems as mostly exclusive, such as the sexual activity policy, housing rules, gendered bathrooms, and the university’s policy for overnight visitors.

As a result of these contradictions, students, including Miller, are calling for changes to the Student Handbook.

“Look at the overnight policy, for example,” Miller said. “It’s extremely disrespectful to me and to my identity [as a queer student], which I already had to struggle with, to have a school with a policy that tells me that I can’t do that [stay overnight in the opposite gender’s room].”

According to the Student Handbook’s Guest and Minor Guest Policy, “male guests may be hosted overnight only in rooms reserved for men; female guests may be hosted overnight only in rooms reserved for women.”

Miller believes that this is a heteronormative policy.

For first year residents, the guest policies are specific to days and times, and are reliant upon the guest’s gender. According to the Handbook, “guests of the opposite gender are permitted in first year resident rooms and suites only during visitation hours.” The rule established for same gender guests, according to the Handbook, states that “24 hour visitation privileges for same gender guests will be granted to first year residents with the understanding that they have signed in their guest consistent with the Guest and Sign-in Policy.”

However, St. Joe’s includes a clause under its Student Life Mission Statement, which states that the university “reserves the right, without prior notice, to correct errors and to make changes in policies, procedures, programs, and/or activities (without prior notice) as it deems appropriate and in the best interest of the University.”

Graphic by Luke Malanga, ’20.
Graphic by Luke Malanga, ’20.

For the student body, this statement implies that any adjustments in policy made to the Handbook do not require notification, regardless of the fact that the students read and sign the Handbook prior to the beginning of each academic year.

The University’s ability to reevaluate and change the Handbook based on what it “deems appropriate,” isn’t right, according to Rob Focht, ’19, Student Senate’s Secretary of Communications.

“As far as there not being any alerts on any of the changes [made to the handbook], it doesn’t seem fair,” Focht said.

Within the Handbook, the University also includes an Equal Opportunity/Nondiscrimination Statement. It explains that the university “does not discriminate on the basis of sex/gender, race, age of 40 or over, color, religion, national origin, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, genetic information, pregnancy, marital status… and other status protected by the law in… recreational policies or programs.”

According to Ethan Flanagan, ’18, co-leader of SJU Pride, this statement is only seemingly inclusive, as it is not true for all the policies stated within the Handbook. For students in the LGBTQIA+ community, and for the 117 members of SJU Pride, gendered housing and the overnight policy are disheartening to both members and allies of the community.

“There are definitely, at least in the Handbook, not enough protections for LGBTQIA+ students, or non-binary students, or transgender students,” Flanagan said. “I think they’re just kind of left in the dust in the majority of the language in the handbook.”

These and other St. Joe’s student leaders claim the Saint Joseph’s Student Handbook’s mission statement of providing an inclusive environment is contradictory.

The rules in the Handbook operate under the assumption that every individual is heterosexual, according to Flanagan. The heteronormative binary is a term used to describe the societal belief that each person identifies with their corresponding sexual orientation given at birth. It operates under the assumption that a person who is born male is heterosexual, and will fit into sexual and marital norms by marrying a female.

Flanagan believes that the gendered dorms and overnight policy operate under the assumption that St. Joe’s students identify as heteronormative.

According to Cary Anderson, vice president of Student Life and associate provost, the Handbook is being reviewed.

“These policies [gendered dorms and overnight policy] along with many others are being included in the overall policy review,” said Anderson.

Some students are hoping for major reforms.

“Personally, I think housing policies are obscenely heteronormative,” said Angelo d’Antonio-Bertagnolli, ’17, speaker of Student Senate. “As a gay man, I reaped the benefits of this heteronormativity by having male guests overnight. However, St. Joe’s is essentially not recognizing that LGBTQ students exist by not taking them into consideration in these housing policies…It’s also rather insulting to assume that because a student is having a guest of the opposite gender, that sexual contact is occurring.”

Separating students into dorm assignments based on gender is, according to SJU Pride’s Miller, another policy contradictory to the university’s mission.

“It is such a reflection that we are not inclusive,” Miller said. “You will make a student who does not identify with the heteronormative binary live off-campus by themselves and have to pay 500 dollars more per semester [as a solution to gendered dorms]. Talk about isolation. Inclusion? I’d say it’s the most opposite to inclusion on campus.”

In regard to gender-separated bathrooms, Miller also said that these rules are discriminating and do not foster an inclusive environment at St. Joe’s, further excluding students.

“You’re still ‘othering’ students. You’re ‘othering’ individuals,” Miller said. “There’s a bathroom for men and a bathroom for women, and there’s a bathroom for ‘other.’”

Focht, a member of Student Senate, believes these issues stem from the fact that the Handbook, although it can change policies without prior notice, does not frequently update its policies. Therefore, its inclusive nature, according to these student leaders, is lacking.

“I find the community to be inclusive, but the rules not to be,” Focht said. “We could start to fix that problem if we were to actively go back and update the Handbook. It [could] show that they are constantly going back to it, and that they [Saint Joseph’s officials] are constantly keeping up with the times. I think that’s something we should do. If the Handbook hasn’t been updated since 1992—or at least some policies haven’t [that are supposed to be looked at]—this just clearly shouldn’t be the case.”

Focht, among other students, said that these kinds of reviews by the administration could benefit the student body as a whole.

Monica Nixon, Ed.D., assistant provost for Inclusion and Diversity, explained the revision process.

“The handbook is reviewed every summer, and the review is coordinated by Bill Bordak, the director of the Office of Community Standards,” Nixon said. “When necessary, the Handbook may also be updated at the semester break. I do know that the handbook is being reviewed for gender inclusivity. “I was not here for the review that took place this past summer, but I expect to be involved for future reviews.”

Paulina Syracuse, ’18, vice president of Student Senate, encourages students to have open conversations on campus in order to better foster inclusivity, regardless of the Handbook’s policies.

“I think it [open conversation] is the first step in creating that inclusivity,” Syracuse said. “I think there is a long way to go, obviously, especially with a lot of the outdated policies that keep those thoughts in people’s heads; [especially] with the residence halls.”

The housing policies, though, are more than just enforcements of the University’s mission.

“The Handbook, especially the housing rules, operate under the assumption that everyone is straight [and] that everyone is a man or is a woman,” Flanagan said. “And [for the overnight policy] a person is only signing in the opposite gender because they can only date the opposite gender. The reason that I am able to do that [sign in the opposite gender] is because St. Joe’s ignores the fact, and the Handbook ignores the fact, that people like me exist.”

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