By KATHERINE KUHL
Over the past five months, the Residence Hall Association (RHA) has worked tirelessly to amend Fordham’s visitation and guest policy. A poll sent out last year asking for student input on the issue received more than 400 responses. Samuel Blackwood, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’19, and Junior Class Representative of RHA, gave The Observer an exclusive look at the proposed changes to the policy. This proposal, coauthored by Blackwood and Cristina Mendez, FCLC ’19, is a culmination of the time and effort put in by the RHA board, including Class Representatives Lucia Vacchiano, FCLC ’20, Samantha Umani, FCLC ’21, Andrew Beecher, FCLC ’21 and former Advocacy Coordinator Preston Ross, all of whom are eager to receive student feedback
The proposal states that the reasoning behind its provisions is “to promote a more inclusive campus community,” “maintain Fordham’s commitment to the safety of its students,” and “to alleviate financial stresses on students of low-income backgrounds.”
Blackwood explained that RHA has found the process of moving the Fordham administration to implement language that recognizes the diverse gender identities of the student body difficult. Only male and female cisgender students (people whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were identified as having at birth) are currently acknowledged in residence policies. RHA’s proposal states that, “it is necessary that there be an abolition of ‘same-sex’ and ‘opposite-sex’ language in this policy, as this not only arbitrarily enforces the sexual binary but also invalidates the identity of trans and intersex students.”
“There are individuals who have to force themselves into a binary to even get a guest pass. They don’t see their identities reflected in Fordham’s policies,” Blackwood said. “This community isn’t really safe for or welcoming to everyone. I would not want to send my child to a school if they identified like that, and I don’t think the administrators would want to send their children if their children were, in fact, transgender, to a school, to a community, that does not respect them and their identity.”
According to Blackwood, Dean of Students at FCLC Keith Eldredge pointed to religious doctrine to justify why residence hall policy does not acknowledge other gender identities, saying that the administration holds the position of the Catholic Church-one that recognizes only two genders.
In response, RHA conducted research to see how students are affected by the standing policy, as well as how other Jesuit institutions compare in their measures.
Andrew Beecher, the RHA representative for freshmen, reached out to Canisius College and asked Dr. Terri L. Mangione, vice president of Student Affairs, about the school’s guest policy, which allows students to have overnight guests regardless of gender or sex. Dr. Mangione said that “all 28 of our Jesuit institutions are very different and we all make local policy decisions that work best for us as individual institutions. What works for Canisius may not work for Fordham and what works for Fordham may not work for BC [Boston College], etc, because our campus communities, our local diocese and external constituencies all help shape our policy decisions.”
Canisius College is not the only Jesuit university that promotes gender inclusivity in its guest policy. Neither Georgetown University nor the University of San Francisco have rules that prohibit students from hosting overnight guests on the basis of sex or gender.
In addition to the changes in language, RHA is seeking equal privileges for undergraduate, graduate and law students regarding overnight visitors. Undergraduates are currently the only group of students barred from having overnight guests of the ‘opposite sex’. When Blackwood spoke with Jeffrey Gray, senior vice president for Students Affairs, he found that administration has different guidelines for graduate students. “They think that graduate students who have gone through four years of college are going to be more mature than undergraduate students,” he said.
Additionally, Blackwood noted that the policy’s inconsistent assumptions currently fail to acknowledge LGBTQ students and their partners as a result.
According to Blackwood, Eldredge and Gray have said on multiple occasions that parental input is a contributing force in support of keeping guest policies in their current form. Blackwood wonders which parents are consulted, though he has never asked. If parental input does, in fact, have considerable worth, Blackwood knows nothing about the transparency of negotiations that might take place.
Katie Doman, FCLC ’19, who worked on the guest policy initiative in the fall semester, stated that “while the parents are sometimes financially responsible, they ultimately are not the ones in charge of our lives or the ones who pay the fines. Overall, the negatives for the student far outweigh any brownie points the administration could get from parents.”
RHA’s proposal also seeks to reduce the cost of fines for violations. Currently, violations start at $15 and compounds with each subsequent violation. Blackwood believes that such a system is unjust and that there should be a transparent appeals process. “You’re placing burden on students from low-income backgrounds,” he said. “Because of extenuating circumstances, students might have to violate the current policy.”
The risk of incurring a fine has occasionally forced guests from their hosts’ apartments. In the case of Christina Mendez, RHA Class Representative for the class of 2019, the threat of a fine became a reality when she attempted to contact her RA for an extended guest pass after a teenage male family friend from Puerto Rico wanted to “get away for a little bit because of everything happening” and needed a place to stay. After not receiving a response in time, Mendez’s young friend had arranged to stay in an Airbnb in the Bronx and was forced to navigate the subway and neighborhood alone.
“It put him in a really unsafe situation when he came,” Mendez said. “At one in the morning, he decided to go back and it was just a really unsafe time and unsafe place for him to be doing that, especially inexperienced.”
Eldredge maintains that because students are aware of the time constraints, they should make sure that their guest leaves at an appropriate time.
Ultimately, Blackwood said, “What it really comes down to, this guest pass policy, is what kind of community do you want to have? Do you want to have this kind of division and divisiveness between students and administration? Do you want a community where people feel like they are in a safe space and feel that they are welcome, and feel that they are respected? Or, what we have right now, which isn’t the kind of community where every single individual feels like that?”