A proposal campaigning for an all gender floor in the Phelan Residence Hall has yet to be decided upon by the university Board of Trustees. Members of both the Queer Alliance and the faculty-run Gender-Inclusive Task Force were scheduled to present on the proposal during the summer of 2012. Their case was postponed indefinitely.
The proposal describes all gender or gender-inclusive housing as a “living space that would create an environment in which these students would feel safe, included, and free from judgment, and enhance their ability to function as a member of the USF community as a whole.”
President Alexandra Binsfeld of Queer Alliance said the Jesuit institution is failing to adhere to its boasted standards of social justice. According to Binsfeld, transgender students who face daily accounts of aggressions, micro-aggressions, and inappropriate gender speculations from other residents need to have the option of removing themselves from such hostile living situations.
“We need a safe space for queer students,” says Binsfeld, who identifies as transgender and prefers the pronouns ‘them’ and ‘they’.
Gender & Sexuality Center intern, Nick Sousa, recalls the beginning stages of the proposal drafted in the spring of 2012. “There was a petition for gender-inclusive housing that was circulating the campus in the fall of 2011,” said Sousa, who also prefers the use of the ‘them’ and ‘they’ pronouns. The petition received 378 signatures.
“At the time of the petition I was elected as the LGBTQ representative. I drafted a one-page resolution about gender-inclusive housing with the help of Caroline Christ, who at the time was Senate’s VP of Mission,” said Sousa.
Sousa said that the resolution in Support of a Gender-Inclusive Housing Option was voted on and approved by all but one member of the ASUSF Senate. A copy of the Senate-approved resolution was then attached to a proposal drafted by the faculty-run Gender-Inclusive Task Force to be reviewed by the Board of Trustees.
Members of Sousa’s student-run Gender-Inclusive Task Force profiled 54 universities around the country that successfully implemented all gender housing on their campuses. These universities included Skidmore College, Southern Oregon University, UC Riverside, Humboldt State University, and UC Berkeley.
Kyle Wells, Service Manager at the Office of Residence Life, said that he was aware of a committee that made some recommendations about creating a gender-neutral living learning community, “but for whatever reason nothing came of it,” he said.
“It is possible for trans students to contact housing, in which case we will set them up with a gender-neutral room,” Wells said. A gender-neutral room entails swipe-card access to a gender neutral bathroom. “[It’s] just so they don’t have to answer a bunch of strangers’ questions about their identity and have a little bit more of a safe space than they might otherwise have,” Wells added.
With the help of Associate Professor Vincent Pizzuto of the Theology and Religious Studies Department, the student-run task force found that the resolution upheld the Jesuit traditions on which the University is founded.
“We approached the resolution from a Jesuit perspective and made the argument that it is perfectly in line with Jesuit values,” said Sousa.
Pizzutto was asked by Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, who was the dean of students at the time and is now the vice provost for diversity engagement and community outreach, to participate in the project.
“They asked if I might draft…a summary from a Catholic perspective [so that] we may come to understand [all gender housing as]…a necessary move, in order to protect the safety and security of some of our students who are requesting this,” said Pizzutto, “and also to to see it within the context of Catholic social justice tradition.”
They also wanted to “try and provide a theological framework or background by which this could be understood and appreciated as something that could be supported within Catholic tradition,” said Pizzutto.
“I think if USF students are serious about getting gender-neutralhousing, they should be campaigning with the idea that this a safety issue first and foremost. The bottom line is that gendered dorms are not a safe place for many trans students.”
“It can be scary to be transgender,” said Binsfeld, “even in an environment as diverse as this city.” The resolution also argues that USF’s current housing system, based on the gender binary, does not accurately reflect the diversity of its student body. “As a mission-driven institution, grounded in Jesuit values, we are dedicated to creating a ‘diverse, socially responsible learning community,” they stated.
Binsfeld said that not all their professors will address them with the proper use of the “them/they” pronoun, and pointed out that Resident Advisors (R.A.s) are not sufficiently trained when it comes to helping their queer residents.
“It’s a super difficult situation that’s hard for both adults and young people,” they said. “There really is no reason to reprimand an R.A. for not properly dealing with a harassment situation involving queer residents. It’s understandable how they would make mistakes.”
“I think if USF students are serious about getting gender-neutral housing, they should be campaigning with the idea that this a safety issue first and foremost. The bottom line is that gendered dorms are not a safe place for many trans students,” said USF Alum Lucas Waldron.
Waldron also noted that gender is actually incredibly arbitrary, which further justifies a need for an all gender housing situation on campus. “For me, as soon as I received a court order to change my sex on my birth certificate, USF considered me to be male, so hypothetically I would have had to live in a male dorm. But my body hadn’t changed at all between the day before I received my court order and the day after,” he said.
Binsfeld believes the solution is actually fairly simple and inexpensive. All that would be needed, according to them, is an added checkbox on the housing application for students who choose to live on the queer floor, and replacing the gender-specified with gender-neutral plaques for the bathrooms. “There are hardly any additional costs, it’s so easy,” they said.
The Queer Alliance, which successfully advocated for the installment of gender-neutral bathrooms campus wide that took place last year, is struggling to find that continued support from the student body.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of unity among the students. No one seems to really have an interest in joining clubs, even Queer Alliance,” said Binsfeld. “Students think they already know everything they need to know about being queer,” they said, “but I still hear kids using the word hermaphrodite which is a slur – the correct term is intersex.”
If the USF Board of Trustees vote to implement all gender or gender-inclusive housing on campus, USF will be the first Jesuit University to take this step.
Elizabeth Silva and Tanya Dzekon contributed to the reporting.