The start of the semester at Stony Brook University brought with it the largest group of students to move into gender-inclusive housing in the program’s 10 years of existence. But with this growing number of residents, comes a growing number of concerns.
Gender-inclusive housing allows students of any gender to live together and express their chosen gender identities without confinement, in a safe haven. All students living in these spaces must sign a contract requiring them to respect the privacy and values of those in their suite, Catherine-Mary Rivera, the director of residential programs, said.
“So it could be friends, allies, those students who are transgender, anyone could live there,” Rivera said. She added that everyone that lives in gender-inclusive dorms understands that their roommate or suitemates might be people who express a different gender than the one they were given at birth.
Students like William Argenzio, a senior cinema and cultural studies and respiratory care double major and president of the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance says this is not always the case.
“I will always say that I am happy students have this option to live in, but I will also say I am disappointed in campus residences,” Argenzio, who lives in one of Chavez Hall’s gender-inclusive suites, said. “There seems to be no real way for students to voice their concerns that the people they are living with are aggressive and emotionally abusive to them on the basis of their gender, which pretty much defeats the purpose of gender-inclusive housing in the first place.”
Argenzio said these issues likely stem from the fact that many of his friends who live in gender-inclusive housing never received the necessary contracts.
“If the person who signs the contract does not uphold the standards described, they can be removed from the space and placed into a different living option,” he said. “Understanding this, I was ready to sign, but neither me, my suitemates [nor] other students across campus received this contract.”
Rivera says the gender-inclusive housing contracts are available on the housing portal and students must sign when choosing gender-inclusive housing, or else they cannot return to the next page.
“It is actually embedded in the housing portal. When you choose it, there’s a link to click on the gender-inclusive housing contracts,” Rivera said. “However, given this feedback that students are saying they didn’t see it or know, we are going to change the process moving forward. There will be a hard stop that you cannot progress unless you open it up and read it.”
Despite his concerns, Argenzio says that he is incredibly happy his friends and members of the LGBTQ community have this safe space – one he says is safer to live in than other spaces on campus.
“As the semesters went by more and more LGBTQ students tried to get into GIH [gender-inclusive housing] and with a lot of work done by the students and by Chris Tanaka, the coordinator for LGBTQ services, campus residences stepped up and made more GIH options available to people,” Argenzio said.
The rise in students occupying gender-inclusive housing did not happen overnight. Derrick Wegner, a senior psychology major and resident assistant in Dreiser College has lived in gender-inclusive housing since his freshman year. He got his friends and others interested in the housing option, and spoke to Alan deVries, the associate director of residential programs and administrative services and director of conference housing, about expanding the number of gender-inclusive dorms available.
“My first year there were only two gender-inclusive suites and I was a pretty queer guy; I’m trans and I thought ‘Oh, will I be placed in an all women’s suite? That would be really weird,’” Wegner said. “My friends and I and a lot of other people were interested and we got a third one started, which is really cool.”
“Now there’s more than 200 people in gender-inclusive housing. We were like ‘Hey more people need this, and Al deVries who is an amazing human being, was like ‘The people need this,’ and so it happened,” Wegner said.
According to Rivera, the catalysts behind the program were a group of six students and a faculty member from the Undergraduate College of Human Development, who pitched the idea in 2007.
“Ten years ago it was already a conversation happening nationally, gender-inclusive housing for students was already being talked about. And Stony Brook also wanted to provide housing that our students felt safe and comfortable in,” Rivera said.
Now the program has expanded, from 42 students last year to over 200 students this year — offering not only suite and apartment-style living, but corridor-style too.
“I think over the years the interests have ebbed and flowed and we just met that demand,” Rivera said.“This year we’re thrilled because we’re able to add, aside from apartments and suite-style which has contained bathrooms and things like that, our first corridor-style options in a few buildings in Eleanor Roosevelt Quad. There are multiple bathroom options on the floors.”
For students like Wegner, the expansion sets up more spaces for those in the LGBTQ community, and brings awareness to those who identify with different pronouns than the ones assigned to them at birth.
“In a lot of queer spaces, people make less assumptions about your identity,” Wegner said. “When you walk into this space, they ask you what your pronouns are so they address you correctly. I really like it because people are just automatically aware and it’s not frustrating or stagnant or awkward, it’s just part of the culture.”
In regards to the housing expansion, Rivera says she hopes a message is sent to students that Stony Brook is committed to providing a safe environment for all of its students.
“This is a safe environment, you can feel free to express yourself in any way you feel comfortable and there’s a place for you here,” Rivera said.
A previous version of this article misquoted Rivera, stating “…interests have been flowed.” The article has been updated to properly represent Rivera’s quote: “interests have ebbed and flowed.”
A previous version of this article stated, “There are multi style showers and stalls in some of the bathrooms.” The story has been updated to more accurately characterize the gender-inclusive bathrooms.
In response to student concerns about unsafe housing conditions, Rivera said in an email, “If a student ever felt unsafe or abused in their living environment, including our gender inclusive spaces, they have various options for reporting mechanisms and support. The Resident Assistants or Residence Hall Director or Quad Office staff are there to assist with any concerns within a room or suite/apartment, in addition to University Police.”