By Jess LaVopa
The Olde, the Neu, and Big Haus each house hundreds of students. Fort Awesome houses 309 students, Alumni houses over 400, and Outback has 180 beds, according to the school website. Still, there are not enough gender-neutral spaces to go around, transgender students say.
Purchase’s housing system has always had gender-neutral housing available for all students regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. But, some students, especially transgender students, believe they are not being treated fairly within the housing system.
Gender inclusive housing is available to anyone who has the qualifying amount of credits for the apartment they desire. This can be cisgender men, cisgender women, or non-binary students who select these beds.
But the problem is, there is not enough room for everyone.
This leaves many transgender students scrambling to find a safe place to live once housing selection comes around.
The struggle that many transgender students face when applying for housing is that they are unable to apply for housing that corresponds with their gender identity. Instead, many transgender students have been placed in housing according to their assigned sex at birth.
In a statement to the Phoenix, Assistant Dean of Student Life Mario Rapetti said, "The system is unfortunately set up to only assign by legal sex, but gender inclusive housing is the exception to this."
Because of the guidelines it takes to have your room selection provided based on a person’s gender identity, many transgender students take this as a sign that the school does not deem them “trans enough,” to qualify for the special housing.
According to Allison Baker, a junior transgender student, there have been open gender-neutral spaces in the past up until the fourth or fifth day of housing selections, but this year, there were basically none.
Rapetti said that gender inclusive spaces were available during the entirety of the housing signup process, but not necessarily "within areas of their interest."
This semester, Baker has been trying to secure a gender-neutral apartment with three of her female-bodied friends for the upcoming Fall 2019 semester. All of her friends are able to sign up for women's housing, even though some of them do not identify as female, while Baker cannot.
In an email Baker and her roommates crafted to OCE, they asked if Baker would be able to register under women's housing and asked what the process was to confirm this. The question was sidestepped, and instead, the group was placed into a gender-neutral apartment by OCE.
“Thank you for the apartment, but why can’t I sign up for women's housing?” said Baker. “The problem is I don’t know what it takes.”
In a different situation during Baker’s sophomore year at Purchase, there was an incident where she needed to be moved out of Outback. As her pronouns in the school’s housing system were she/her, Baker assumed she would be placed with another woman. Instead, she was told there were no more gender neutral spots available and was forced to live with a cisgender male.
“Everyone can pick gender-neutral housing on any day,” said Baker. “Which is great for people like me who need it, but it allows people who don’t need it to take advantage of that.”
One proposal is to have transgender students prioritized within the gender-neutral housing system.
“Dont be selfish,” said Antony Ware, director of residential services for the Office of Community Engagement. “Gender inclusive housing is an important need on this campus, so if all students can understand that, then why would you take an apartment away from these students who really need it? Absolutely it’s not fair.”
The main concern is safety. Transgender students should feel safe and respected within their living space. And with the complexity that comes with gender identity, it should be common sense that transgender students cannot just live with anyone. There are instances where people do not agree with a transgender person’s way of life, and others may have different views on gender identity, even if they are transgender themselves.
“It’s not okay to expect anyone at any point in their transition to live where ever,” they said. “It also brings into question how housing views how far someone's transition is. Somebody who’s never been on hormones, never had surgeries or put on testosterone should still be considered equally as trans, as a woman, as a man, without having to prove that!”
Janos Boon, another junior, agrees that the gender-neutral housing policy needs to be changed.
“The school's system of, ‘it’s safer for people to exclusively live with the gender they’re comfortable with,’ doesn't work,” they said. “Because unsafe people can still invade gender-neutral spaces. People may have a specific gender assignment but because of their sex assignment they can fit into different spaces.”
In the eyes of the students, it is difficult to explain to housing their needs surrounding their gender identity. It is so frustrating that some students are giving up on housing.
Tzara Kane, a transgender junior theater and performance major, said she doesn’t know what to do anymore to prove to the school that she is a woman.
“I pinky swear that I am not a man. Why won’t they take my word for it?” said Kane. “But this is not a me problem; this is something all trans students face.”
Kane is a transfer student and was lured to this school under the assumption that she would be treated better as a transgender student then at her last college. On move-in day, she was surprised that her roommate assignment was with a cisgender male.
After talking to the other student, who clearly did not agree with Kane's lifestyle, she went to OCE to ask for a room change. To her surprise, she was placed with another cisgender male.
“I just want to room with women just like every other girl can,” said Kane. “Imagine a world in which binary students and non-binary students don’t have to compete for the same housing.”
Due to issues with housing, Kane said that she is opting out of housing all together and plans to get an apartment off campus. “I don’t want to deal with it anymore,” said Kane.
“I only know two people who have been moved into a housing spot that matches their gender identity, not their sex identity,” said Boon.
Some students believe it would be beneficial to make all living spaces gender neutral because, again, everyone deserves a safe living arrangement. The main question is what does it take to qualify as a transgender person, for male or female housing?
“It’s not an issue of having gender-neutral housing,” they said. “It’s a problem of having space with people you're comfortable with.”
Rapetti also clarified the purpose of gender-neutral housing in his statement.
"Overall, I definitely understand the concerns of our trans student population. Unfortunately, there seems to be a large misconception on the purpose of gender inclusive housing," he said. "This housing is not intended to only specifically house trans students. It is intended for any student that wants to be housed without their legal sex or gender being taken into account."
Ware also encouraged students to reach out to him if they are in need of assistance regarding gender-neutral housing.
“I'm a student guy. I love to talk to the students and I enjoy the feedback,” said Ware. Students have suggestions and I want to hear them.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Mario Rapetti and Antony Ware and to include the fact that gender neutral housing is not intended only for trans students but also for students who do not want their gender identity considered when they are selected for housing.