Student Advocacy Leads Fordham University to Adopt Gender-Inclusive Housing Options

Fordham University recently announced that it will provide gender-inclusive housing options for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, reported student newspaper The Observer.

Until now, transgender or gender non-conforming students had been placed in single rooms in McMahon Hall dormitory at the New York school’s campus, or made to share a room with someone who matched the student’s sex assigned at birth. Under the new policy, the newspaper reports:

“. . . [S]tudents will have the opportunity to select their preferred gender identity for the housing process instead of being forced to room based on sex assigned at birth. ResLife said they will reach out to students who indicate that they would like to discuss their gender identity, and work with them on a case-by-case basis.”

In addition, all students will be asked “if they are comfortable living with a trans or gender non-confirming student.” Keith Eldredge, assistant vice president and dean of students at the Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan, refers to this inquiry as the “ally question.”

The journey to gender-inclusive housing has been a five-year battle for Fordham students. In 2014, Chris Hennessy founded “The Positive,” a student-led advocacy group for gender rights. Within the first year, the group conducted a survey asking students if they would support gender-inclusive bathrooms. 90% of 414 students said they would.

By 2015, The Positive received support from the student government to introduce new inclusive signage for the third floor bathrooms in a campus building. In 2016, Fordham students organized a Trans Lives Matter protest to fight for trans rights on campus. Two years later, transgender student Aria Lozano, “even wrote an op-ed for The Observer in 2018, where she claimed that Fordham’s transphobic and bigoted policies made her feel like she had to transfer to another university.” 

By 2018, Fordham changed “all single-occupancy bathrooms across the Manhattan campus to read ‘All-Gender Restrooms’.” In March of 2019, the administration joined with The Positive and Rainbow Alliance to form a task force about supporting gender non-conforming and trans students’ housing options. At the time, Eldredge felt the university “was not ready for gender-neutral housing.” Fordham soon initiated a “chosen name policy that allows students of trans experiences to use their chosen name on all official Fordham documents, including transcripts,” according to the newspaper.

Eldredge said that he hoped the new dorm policy will “make students feel more safe in their living environment.” Margaret Cohen, “a member of The Positive and an advocate for gender-inclusive accommodations, said that this change is “a huge step forward for Fordham.”

However, despite the progress, some students said that work still needs to be done. Cohen pointed out:, 

“Non-binary folks are still going to be put in vulnerable situations in this process, which won’t be resolved until there is gender-neutral housing — meaning anyone of any gender can live with anyone of any gender. Fordham is not willing to make that choice at this time despite students’ persistence that it is the safest for students of all genders.” 

Cohen observed that dorms “can now be classified as gender-segregated, as opposed to sex-segregated […] Students who identify as non-binary will still face obstacles in the housing application process.”

An editorial in The Observer noted that Catholic doctrinal ideas about gender still negatively affect the university’s policies:

“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.”

According to The Observer, only five Jesuit institutions have gender inclusive housing available. In her 2018 op-ed, Lozano pointed out that while Jesuit institutions “claim to ‘care for the whole person,’ they often ignore the needs of transgender and queer students.”  Fordham’s new policy is a new step forward. More Jesuit institutions–and indeed more Catholic institutions–should follow in Fordham’s footsteps.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Emily Win, March 27, 2020

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