April 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 67°F


Trans and nonbinary students find inclusive housing on campus

At Ithaca College, there are many resources for transgender and queer students to receive housing that is accommodating to their needs, but some students and staff at the college agree that there are still improvements to be made.

In order to receive desired housing accommodations, students who identify as transgender and nonbinary must fill out the Trans and Non-Binary Housing Request or call the Office of Residential Life to request accommodations. The housing request asks students about which dorm they are most comfortable living in, allows students to choose single, double or triple dorms and asks if students would be more comfortable living on a male, female or co-ed floor.

Open Pages is a Residential Learning Community (RLC) that was founded in Fall 2022 and is located in West Tower. It provides housing accommodations and community to transgender and nonbinary students who are not first-year students. Recently, the RLC has garnered national media attention, with multiple news outlets, including Fox News and InsideHigherEd, highlighting their effort.

Junior Jay Barrett, co-founder of Open Pages, said the housing request met his needs as a transgender student, but his previous housing did not not give him the sense of community that he wanted before living in the RLC.

“Everyone was very chill, [they were] allies, but it still made me a little nervous,” Barrett said. “Even walking back and forth to the shower I was always on edge, and so with Open Pages, I was looking to help create a community where [people] didn’t have to worry about what their peers are thinking and that they can live in a space where they feel comfortable and understood.”

Luca Maurer, interim executive director of Student Equity and Belonging and director of LGBT Education and Services, said the housing accommodations at the college are a good start but that there is more to be done in terms of inclusivity. 

“When I first started [at the college], none of the options that we have now existed,” Maurer said. “It was general housing for everybody, but it didn’t meet everybody’s needs. If you take a long view, we have put things in place at Ithaca College that represent some of what LGBTQ students need, and in some cases [we] have really set the standard that other colleges aspire to.”

Maurer said something specific he wants to see the college do is create a system that would help transgender and queer students find roommate matches that fit their needs.

“A few years ago, our orientation process used to be in the summer, so students would come in June or July for orientation to sign up for classes and that was a great way for queer and trans students to meet each other,” Maurer said. “I’d love for us to figure out some additional ways for queer and trans students to meet additional roommate matches before they get [to the college].

Junior Gwyneth Cole, co-founder of Open Pages, is a Residence Assistant (RA) for the RLC and said they feel much more comfortable being an RA to transgender and nonbinary residents. 

“College dorms are super gendered regardless,” Cole said. I used to live in quads and there was a boys’ side of the floor and a girls’ side of the floor and communal bathrooms. In some of the terraces, there are multi-stall bathrooms with a gender-neutral plaque on it and it’s not really accessible for trans students.”

First-year student August Culhane said they would be interested in joining the RLC, but most of their classes will be at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, and from West Tower it would be a far walk, especially in more extreme weather conditions.

“The idea of being a part of a community of like-minded individuals with a shared background and different experiences [is that] you can learn from each other and have that access right there all the time,” Culhane said. “My friends from other colleges don’t have anything like that. It’s really unique that we have it here. 

Culhane said gendered dorms can be isolating to people who identify outside of the binary.

“Since I live on the guys’ side but I do not identify as a guy, it can be a little bit isolating when you’re surrounded by so much [masculinity],” Culhane said. 

For many people who are transgender and nonbinary, public restrooms are a cause of anxiety and discomfort. According to a 2013 study by the Williams Institute that surveyed transgender and gender non-conforming people’s experience in public restrooms in Washington D.C., 18% of participants reported that they were denied access to a gendered bathroom and 68% reported at least one instance of verbal harassment in bathrooms.

The college provides the locations of every gender-neutral bathroom on campus and in residence halls on its website, providing resources for students to find the bathrooms they are most comfortable using. Most residence halls are equipped with at least one all-gender restroom, but some, including most of the Upper and Lower Quads, only have gendered communal restrooms.  

First-year student Emily Ferencsik lives in Bogart Hall, a residence hall with no all-gender restrooms. Ferencsik said that she would like to see every residence hall equipped with an all-gender restroom because it would make everybody, regardless of how they identify, happier. 

“I would [want an all-gender restroom] because you get privacy and it feels like your own bathroom,” Ferencsik said. “Being able to shower by myself and change in that [bathroom] is safer.”

Maurer said he would love to see the college upgrade to single-occupancy restrooms in residence halls for all students so the bathrooms would be more like what students have in their homes.

Cole said that the first semester of Open Pages ran smoothly and that the RLC is so popular there is a waitlist. Cole also said via email that the RLC will be open to first-year students starting in Fall 2023. Because of the incoming first-year applicants and the people already on the waitlist, the RLC was approved for a second floor in West Tower starting in Fall 2023. Cole said the goal next year is to keep the first-year students together on the same floor to give them the experience of a first-year dorm. 

“We don’t necessarily have events that are trans oriented, but we went mini golfing,” Cole said. “People just walk into the lounge and hang out and do homework [together] and it just really has a community feel, it kind of feels like a camp.”

Barrett said the RLC keeps a record of applicants and considers their applications by how well the applicants answer the application questions and what applicants can contribute to the community of the RLC. The RLC considers waitlisted applicants at the start of each semester when space opens up from students who graduate or study abroad.

“Because we are an identity-based community, something we emphasize on our application is what Open Pages can do for you,” Barrett said. “A lot of applicants talk about their safety and their own well-being. Something that we take into consideration is if the student is going to be okay if they are not on the floor.”

Barrett said that during the events he feels more comfortable being himself and that Open Pages allows him to not constantly think about gender. 

“When I am hanging out with a bunch of queer or transgender people it’s like I don’t constantly have to be on guard,” Barrett said. “I don’t have to constantly be thinking about gender and processing it and [be] thinking about how other people think about it. It’s just like, we’re all cool, we’re all queer, we can just hang out and have fun.”