In February, Seattle University joined a growing group of Jesuit colleges to approve gender-inclusive housing policies for undergraduate resident students. This accomplishment came after more than a decade of work by dedicated student activists. A news article in the Seattle Spectator, the campus newspaper, detailed the efforts involved in creating this policy, as well as some students’ hopes for the future.
Called “a triumph for students”, the inclusionary housing policy now reads:
“Transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary students have the option to live with students who share their gender identity, correct their gender identity, name, and pronouns… [in] the housing portal, and use the housing portal to be matched with roommates who affirm or share their gender identity.”
A list of terms related to gender as sourced from the Human Rights Campaign follows the text of the new policy. This new inclusivity contrasts with earlier policies that did not account for students with names or genders other than what appeared on their legal identification. Spectator reporter Lila Zuckermann explained the early challenges:
“Roommates were paired together based on their biological sex. Students would apply to Seattle U under their legal name, with zero opportunities to enter their preferred name. For many transgender students, moving into a new dorm labelled with their legal, or ‘dead name,’ can be a traumatic start to college.”
Providing students with a safe and comfortable living space is at the heart of these policy changes, which in large part came about from the work of student leaders. Ames Zocchi, president of the Triangle Club (a campus group supporting LGBTQ+ students) shared, “I was honestly really scared [it wasn’t going to pass] and it was really hard to get in contact with folks in the administration to see if this was going to happen or not.” Now that the policy is fully in place, Zocchi is working to support new students who want to get involved in working for gender-based justice. “I’ve welcomed a lot of younger students,” says Zocchi. “It’s not going to die out.”
One incident in particular pushed the concerns of LGBTQ+ students and allies to the forefront. Last April, student newspaper coverage of an annual drag show was criticized by the administration, and one Jesuit professor removed physical copies of the paper because of what he believed was an indecent cover photo. After considerable backlash, administrators apologized, and the climate at school shifted to making progressive policies possible. Says Chris McCarty of Housing and Residence Life, “We got to do some things we weren’t really allowed to do before.”
While the new gender-inclusive policies have been a large step forward for Seattle University, many believe that there is still room to improve. The housing office has shared plans for a guide for LGBTQ students and allies to find on-campus resources, including gender-neutral bathrooms. Ease of access to information is key in many of these strides. Having general-inclusive policies, for both housing and name changes, should be standard at all colleges, and it is encouraging to see Catholic universities beginning to add these options for their students. Affirming students’ identities and right to learn in a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment is essential to providing a quality education, and we hope that many other colleges will follow suit.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, April 5, 2019