As President Trump takes a step back with transgender rights, Fairfield University takes a step forward. In the 2017-18 school year, Fairfield will become the second Jesuit university, after the University of San Francisco, to offer a gender inclusive housing option for students.
“The idea came from Fairfield Alliance and other students who saw this as a need and wanted this as an option,” said Assistant Director of the Office of Student Diversity Carrie Robinson. Robinson, along with Director of Residence Life Ophelie Rowe-Allen, Dean of Students Karen Donoghue ‘03 and Title IX coordinator Christine Brown have been working together since the end of the spring semester 2016 to create a gender-inclusive housing option.
Among the student call for gender inclusive housing, this choice was made in accordance with federal and state law.
The May 2016 Dear Colleague Letter from the federal government paid specific attention to the rights of transgender students. In February 2017, Governor Malloy signed an executive order protecting the rights of transgender students in the state of Connecticut.
“We are doing this in compliance with Title IX legislation and it is the socially just thing to do,” said Donoghue.
According to the fairfield.edu website under the gender inclusive resources tab, gender inclusive housing will be offered to not only transgender, transitioning, gender-queer, but for those who decide that they would prefer to live in a community with people of those identities.
While gender inclusive housing is an option, students will not have to participate if they want to room with those of their sex.
“Students have their views and we are open to their feedback. We did a survey regarding the issue and the majority of the results were positive,” said Rowe-Allen.
Vice President of Fairfield Alliance Meaghan Hamilton ‘17 emphasized the importance of this decision.
“I’m really excited about this [housing] option,” said Hamilton.
Fairfield Alliance sent out an email on April 4 expressing their encouragement for the housing. The email stated, “This is a really big step for the Fairfield LGBTQ+ Community and we want to support this as much as possible.”
While some students are accepting of the issue, they are worried about what these changes could lead to.
“I do not have any serious objections to this new housing. I do not want this change to lead to other reforms that contradict the Catholic faith and our identity as a Jesuit institution,” said Robert Fredette ‘18.
The process to implement the housing option has taken a year because of the education of how to incorporate a housing option like this on a Jesuit campus that has gone into it.
“We knew it was going to take time and that was time we were willing to invest,” said Rowe-Allen. “We had experts to come in to meet with us to let us know what as an institution regardless of our backgrounds, our traditions, what are things we can do for student’s rights.”
“We don’t want students who want this option to be targeted. That’s why it will be spread throughout campus. Letting them live where they want to live will protect them,” said Robinson.
Junior Katie Barrera, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, expressed concern for the safety and comfortability for trans students.
“I hope in light of that message of acceptance and inclusion Fairfield is able to live up to the values and goals it sets for itself,” they said. “There is still a lot of warranted uncertainty and hesitation on the part of the transgender community, myself included because there is so much negativity in politics and the media right now; we don’t know if we can really trust any institution to keep us safe.”
Fairfield began creating gender-inclusive areas when administration turned single bathrooms into gender inclusive bathrooms, including two in the Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola, one in the Leslie C. Quick Recreation Complex, in the McCormick Hall and others throughout campus. The residence hall currently being built will be ready in the fall of 2018 with a shower stall on every floor that is gender inclusive.
While this is a step in the right direction, Donoghue pointed out that the University has a long way to go in order to be a welcoming and safe environment for transgender students.
“We have to continue to work with the community for awareness and education programs,” said Donoghue. “We have to be open and inclusive and respectful of one’s identity. We need to work toward an environment that students feel comfortable being who they want to be.”