Students at Jesuit-run Fordham University have come out in support of a trans-friendly dorm policy for students residing in the Bronx university’s residence halls in a recent school newspaper editorial. Currently, transgender and other gender non-conforming students must live in a dorm that matches their assigned gender at birth.
“Despite its reputation as a relatively progressive university, many rules enforced by the Fordham administration are rooted in dated Roman Catholic tradition. This conflict in ideology is embodied by the on-campus housing policy, a system still tainted by archaic perceptions of gender. It is hypocritical for Fordham to claim to support its LGBTQ students while the current housing situation remains exclusionary. While we commend the efforts of the administration to uphold the values of diversity and inclusion—and we believe these efforts are genuine—they are for naught if TGNC [transgender and gender non-conforming] students do not feel comfortable or even safe in their on-campus living environments. As the school year goes on, Fordham students may start to refer to their residence hall as ‘home’; there’s no reason why any portion of the population should be denied this privilege.”
The editorial went on to express the exclusionary aspect of the rules governing dorm assignments:
“Fordham’s current process for selecting and maintaining roommates is exclusionary to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) students. This process is based on the Catholic view that a person cannot change their gender and that anyone who identifies as TGNC cannot validly marry. But the fact of the matter is that these tenets are outdated and exclusionary. Students who do not identify their gender with their sex assigned at birth and feel uncomfortable living with other members of that sex are unequivocally left out. In fact, Fordham is outright insulting them by not allowing them to live comfortably on the grounds of their gender identities.”
“SafetyNet,” a website dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA people at Christian colleges, has a page dedicated to “Best Practices for Transgender Student Housing.” Among the suggestions are offering options of gender-neutral dorm spaces or student apartment living.
Two days before the editorial appeared, Fordham student Aria Lozano, who identifies as transgender, wrote of her uncomfortable experiences trying to work with university staff to find a roommate:
“My first encounter with Fordham’s bigoted policies happened before I even started my first semester here. Roommate selection is an anxious process for many of us, but it was especially scary for me because I was afraid of being placed in a room with males. After some tedious back-and-forth emails, [the] LC [Lincoln Center campus] Residential Life Director told me over the phone that I could not have a female roommate because Fordham assigns rooms based on legal sex. After the initial shock of discovering that Fordham would not recognize my gender identity, I tried to negotiate. I thought that I wouldn’t have to live with men if I found some female students who wanted to room with me, which I did. But again I was denied for the same reason. I then asked if there were other transgirls who needed a roommate, but [the] Director said there were none. With no other options, I just gave up.”
Lozano discussed how the lack of an appropriate response from the Fordham community continued to impact her freshman year of college:
“Because of this immediate experience of intolerance at Fordham, I was scared to come out of the closet. I went to university hopeful that I could be myself, but now I was afraid and paranoid that my peers, professors and others in the community would also reject and shun me. Feeling that I did not belong, I isolated myself from my peers, damaging not just my social life but also my mental health, which was already plagued with the anxiety, depression and suicidality that are so prevalent among the TGNC community.”
Aria’s frustration with the lack of support from the Fordham administration has left her feeling disillusioned with Fordham as a whole:
“Regardless of what I end up doing for myself, these policies will continue to harm students unless real change in the administration occurs. Until this happens, more and more transgender and queer students will come to Fordham only to be disregarded and erased from campus. Had I known all of this last year, I would not have even considered attending this university. Fordham may have given me their letter of acceptance, but they only accepted ‘me’ as the 4.0 GPA, the 36 ACT score and the 5s on AP exams. They never accepted the real me, someone whose very existence is somehow incompatible with Fordham’s Jesuit identity: the me named Aria.”
While many of Fordham’s policies are supportive of LGBT students, the current housing policies leave many transgender and gender non-conforming students without a safe option to live on campus. Transgender and gender non-conforming students deserve the full inclusion of the campus community, especially when it comes to housing options. An LGBT dorm floor could be a welcome first step to ensuring that all Fordham students feel at home.
–Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, May 12, 2018