Housing Policies Lead to Confusion in First-Year Residence Halls

Stacey Stein

Colgate’s new policy regarding gender-inclusive housing resulted in surprised first-years moving into new dorms with co-ed bathrooms. First-year students were able to request to room with somebody of the opposite gender, but some students who had not requested this option still found themselves sharing bathrooms with those of the opposite gender.

“In order to accommodate this, all residence halls except West Hall were made gender neutral by floor,” East Stillman Community Leader sophomore Elizabeth Pape said. “It made sense then to create gender-inclusive bathrooms so that everyone on the floor, regardless of gender identity, could feel comfortable using the restrooms on his or her floor.”

However, after students attended a meeting with the Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Initiatives Jamie Bergeron, Assistant Director of Residential Life Kerra Hunter and Vice President and Dean of the College Suzy Nelson, it was clarified that all bathrooms were to be single-sex.

“We never have had our policy be that first-years would share bathrooms or rooms because our gender inclusive policy is all opt-in,” Bergeron said. “First-years who want gender inclusive housing need to apply for it.”

According to Nelson, the clarification of single-sex bathrooms was in order to ensure that all were comfortable.

“When you implement a new policy, sometimes it is bumpy, and sometimes you do have missteps,” Nelson said. “It’s very possible that some students were uncomfortable and some parents were uncomfortable and that’s why we responded and made sure it was clear what the policy is and what the bathroom designation is.”

However, according to first-year Matthew Reed, students have continued to use the bathroom on their floor, regardless of which gender it has been assigned to.

“Honestly, [the assigned bathrooms] had no effect on how we have conducted our behavior or bathroom use,” Reed said. “It’s all still co-ed unofficially. Everyone on our floor is completely fine with it.”

According to Bergeron, the option of gender-inclusive housing has been something that Colgate has been working toward for a long time. Upper-class students are also now allowed to choose to live in gender-inclusive housing.

“Last year there was a lot of really positive feedback because upper-class students choose their roommates, so they could just choose whoever they wanted to live with,” Bergeron said. “That was our main goal, just to create more options for as many students as possible. We really value gender equity at Colgate.”

Nelson also hopes to continue to designate gender-neutral bathrooms across campus and in the first-year areas.

“Jamie [Bergeron] has already identified certain bathrooms on campus that are gender inclusive,” Nelson said. “You look across your campus and you see where you can locate gender-inclusive bathrooms so that no matter who I am, if that’s my preference to use that type of bathroom, I’ll be able to find one. When we look at the first-year areas in particular, we want to try to find where we might locate those bathrooms.”

 According to Nelson, this is particularly challenging because in some of the older buildings, there is only one bathroom per floor.

“We want to try to find where we might locate those bathrooms that is convenient,” Nelson said. “It will probably be in more modern buildings because you have more bathrooms, so you can have a choice. On one floor you can have male, female and gender inclusive, and then everybody gets a choice.”

Ultimately, Bergeron hopes that the school will keep working towards this initiative so that as many people can feel as comfortable as possible.

“A lot of campuses that are old like ours go step by step, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Bergeron said. “In places across campus where there are single stall bathrooms, we’re able to just take a bathroom and make it gender inclusive, and anyone can use it. We will continue to do that in residence halls as we can, and as we build new buildings, there will be more spaces for everybody to make choices about what makes them most comfortable, no matter what that is, and that’s our priority.”

Contact Stacey Stein at [email protected].