Luca Maurer, LGBT Education, Outreach and Services program director, and Bonnie Prunty, director for Residential Life and Judicial Affairs, published a chapter about Ithaca College’s housing policies in “Trans Policies and Experiences in Housing & Residence Life.” The book, which was published in March of 2018, features stories about trans housing policies from 11 different institutions, including Ithaca College.
Opinion Editor Meaghan McElroy spoke with Maurer about the book, the college’s history of trans housing policies and what makes the college’s policies so unique.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Meaghan McElroy: How did this book come together?
Luca Maurer: The folks who edited the book reached out personally and specifically to the colleges they thought were doing this very well, and they invited us to submit chapters. It was, as you can imagine, a while ago — it was more than a year ago — one of the editors reached out to us and said, “Hey, we’re trying to put together this volume, would you like to write about what you’ve done on this campus?” They were looking to make a book as a resource for not only folks in residential life but people in higher ed institutions all over the place that would promote knowledge about transgender students experiences and identities in higher ed, to really put a spotlight on the very important role that residential life has. … They also wanted to sort of uniquely highlight personal experiences and personal narratives — both personal experiences of students that might might have been involved, and the personal narratives of staff who are involved in bringing efforts arounds trans policies, practices and services to fruition. … I am just absolutely invested in student success, and one element of being able to champion the needs of students and successfully get their needs met so they can graduate is to give back to the profession. This is really us, and all of the authors, wanting to say to other colleges across the country, “This is what we did and this is how we do it, and here’s a variety of ways we went about it.”
MM: Can you walk me through the history of this a little bit?
LM: Sometime around 2002 or 2003, a student who was really connected with the center said, “I have a huge problem, and I’m very angry. … I’m a senior, I want to live in my same apartment with my same roommate who I’ve lived with since my freshman orientation. She still wants to live with me. I still want to live with her. We still want to live in the same Garden, but the computer won’t let us because my gender marker has changed on my ID. … How can you help us?” And I said, “Wow, that’s a great question. Are you comfortable with me sharing the details of your situation with someone in Res Life so we can get you some resolution?” And he said yes. So Bonnie and I both agreed that this was unfair, and we needed to figure out how to address it. … That’s where this all started. One of the things I love about IC and one of the reasons I’ve stayed around so long is that most people on this campus want to do the right thing or want to help students achieve their goals. This was an instance where we were like, “This is a structural barrier.” When the housing software was made back then, I don’t think anyone was like, “Let’s stop transgender people from living with their ideal roommates.” It was structurally discriminatory, and so Bonnie and I had to figure out how do we work through the structure to create change? … As we worked through the system and got this instituted, it was a building block on which we built another housing and residence life changes that benefit lots more people. Today we have a whole bunch of options where people can live in mixed-sex or mixed-gender groups, and that all came after this.
MM: How unique are Ithaca’s housing policies for trans students in comparison to other schools?
LM: More and more schools are having this conversation; we were having this conversation in 2003 or 2004, and I think that distinguishes us. It’s not that we had students asking for this earlier, we were just responsive earlier to students’ needs, frankly. I’m part of a whole network of campus LGBT directors across the country that were having these conversations then, and they were coming up against organizational and structural barriers. … [Their schools] were saying no in different ways, and we said yes. I would say that we are distinguished amongst our peers institutions in that we wanted to be responsive to our students, and we were very quickly.
MM: Why is housing so important?
LM: Our students don’t just study here or work here; this is their home. So we have to provide, at a very baseline, safe housing, and to me, that’s a very low bar. It has to be safe, supportive housing that takes into account students’ needs. At its very core, our campus is our students’ home. Even if they have gone out onto our campus and into our community and mostly experienced support, it is crucially important that when they return to their room or their apartment on campus, that it’s home to them. It has to feel like a safe, secure, inclusive place that doesn’t gloss over their identity but supports them and celebrates them and acknowledges that different students have different needs and champions them.