Four Jesuit universities have been offering gender-inclusive housing to students– but Saint Joseph’s University will soon make it five.
The Catholic, Jesuit university in Philadelphia, recently announced that students next year will be given the option to select a gender-neutral option during their housing selection in the following year. The policy proposal is specifically designed to support transgender students, and was delivered at a recent University Student Senate meeting in advance of the Office of Residence Life’s housing selection process, which begins March 25.
The designated gender-inclusive housing will be suite-style, meaning that students will live in a six-bedroom suite with a common space and shared bathroom.
“That is our smallest suite-style location that would still allow students to have that organic first-year experience, but LaFarge still has the smallest number [of students] sharing a restroom,” said Jessica Moran-Buckridge, director of Residence Life at Saint Joseph’s University, as quoted by university newspaper The Hawk.
The proposal has been in the works for the past five years, and is just now reaching fruition. The decision to finally incorporate gender-inclusive housing came as a result of student demand and need, which “aligns with the university’s Jesuit values,” according to The Hawk.
Student response has been generally positive, as students identifying as trans, gender non-conforming, or non-binary feel their identity to be validated in otherwise gender-segregated housing situations, The Hawk explained:
“Jordon Constantino ’22, a commuter student who identifies as transgender, said the lack of gender-inclusive housing at St. Joe’s contributed to his decision to commute to school.
“Constantino said the new program will not only show support for students who identify as transgender but will provide a needed sense of community for them at St. Joe’s.
“‘It is nice that [students] can have a suite-style, that they have a space,” Constantino said. “You are not just singled out. You have a community around you who understands you.’”
Though the program is certainly a positive step and a progressive one for a Catholic school, student leaders are still wary of the policy’s implementation and its full effects. The Hawk reported:
“…[B]oth Constantino and Rachel Cox ’19, the residential life chair for [University Student Senate], said they are still concerned that first-year students who live in gender-inclusive housing will experience social isolation due to there being a single designated suite for the program.
“‘Other students, who may not know of anything beyond a gender binary, [might question] why those students are living together,’” Cox said. “‘I want to make sure the community at-large is inclusive and that those students get the support they need.’”
The editorial board of The Hawk similarly confirms the need for gender-inclusive housing, but describes the proposal as “not without its flaws.” The article continued:
“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.”
The Hawk editors expounded upon the social impacts of transgender youth who are not supported throughout their transition and beyond, citing emotional burdens of family rejection and social isolation as reasons why “transgender teenagers attempted suicide at rates up to five times higher than their cisgender peers.”
The editors support the policy, but explain how it could be improved:
“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.”
“In previous years, it was university policy that the Office of Residence Life worked on a case-by-case basis with students who identified as transgender to place them in housing that matched their gender identity. Students who identified as transgender weren’t allowed to have roommates.”
The other four Jesuit universities that offer gender-inclusive housing are Gonzaga (Spokane, Washington), Fairfield (Connecticut), Georgetown (Washington, DC), and the University of San Francisco.
Requiring students to out themselves to university administrators to attain gender-inclusive housing is still a daunting task, even if gender-inclusive housing is available on campus. Though gender-inclusive housing is a marked step in the right direction for trans inclusion on Catholic college campuses, it must be done in a manner that fully respects and affirms the dignity of the individuals who hold these identities. New Ways Ministry commends Saint Joseph’s University for supporting and affirming its trans students, and hopes that other Catholic universities will soon follow suit.
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, March 18, 2019