By ARIA LOZANO
Here at the proud Jesuit institution of Fordham University, our administration is under the illusion that they can claim to “care for the whole person” while blatantly ignoring the needs of transgender and queer students. To the non-LGBTQ people reading this, it may feel like the Fordham Lincoln Center (FLC) community is tolerant and open, but that is only the case if you ignore the administration’s outright disregard for the safety and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) students. Fordham’s administration refuses to institute changes that are crucial for TGNC people to thrive as members of the community, including gender-inclusive bathroom signage and a preferred name policy. Furthermore, the administration bolsters its regressive and harmful guest pass policy instead of listening to the large percentage of FLC students who support the revised policy proposal created by the Residence Hall Association (RHA). But for me, Fordham’s most painful and hateful policy is its discriminatory housing, which ignores individual students’ gender identities and assigns roommates based upon legal sex on one’s birth certificate.
My first encounter with Fordham’s bigoted policies happened before I even started my first semester here. Roommate selection is an anxious process for many of us, but it was especially scary for me because I was afraid of being placed in a room with males. Since I was still ignorant of the administration’s complete disrespect for trans people, I contacted Residential Life hoping to room with other girls. After some tedious back-and-forth emails, LC Residential Life Director Jenifer Campbell told me over the phone that I could not have a female roommate because Fordham assigns rooms based on legal sex. After the initial shock of discovering that Fordham would not recognize my gender identity, I tried to negotiate. I thought that I wouldn’t have to live with men if I found some female students who wanted to room with me, which I did. But again I was denied for the same reason. I then asked if there were other transgirls who needed a roommate, but Director Campbell said there were none. With no other options, I just gave up. When I got to campus, I felt socially isolated and like no one at Fordham cared how difficult it was for me to share a bedroom with a man, and a bathroom with two other men.
While already suffering under the administration’s utter disregard for my emotional well-being, I now had to actually live with a man whom I did not know whatsoever. Since our initial awkward introductions, we have not talked at all. I am so uncomfortable with my living situation that I can’t even come out to him, and for the entire first semester, I felt the need to hide anything that seemed “feminine” out of fear, anxiety and shame. But my social problems obviously extended outside the bedroom as well. Because of this immediate experience of intolerance at Fordham, I was scared to come out of the closet. I went to university hopeful that I could be myself, but now I was afraid and paranoid that my peers, professors and others in the community would also reject and shun me. Feeling that I did not belong, I isolated myself from my peers, damaging not just my social life but also my mental health, which was already plagued with the anxiety, depression and suicidality that are so prevalent among the TGNC community.
Eventually, as the stress of remaining in the closet kept growing, I pushed myself to awkwardly come out to the people to whom the university had introduced me with my deadname and wrong gender. My peers were generally accepting of me, yet that in no way compensated for the alienation I still had to endure every day in my dorm.
Hoping for change at the university, I discovered The Positive, a student organization here at Fordham fighting for gender inclusivity on campus. I promptly joined, and immediately lost all hope upon learning the true extent of the institutional transphobia entrenched in the administration. Fordham staunchly adheres to the Catholic doctrine recognizing only two genders defined solely by sex, which has been reiterated by administrators such as Keith Eldridge, our dean of students. I know that it is important to hold onto some hope that things can change, which will only happen through student unity and direct action; however, having to fight the university’s bigoted policies while simultaneously enduring those policies has taken a large toll on my mental health. Because of atrocious policies at Fordham, I feel like I do not belong here on campus, and that I must either transfer out or, at the very least, find off-campus housing.
Regardless of what I end up doing for myself, these policies will continue to harm students unless real change in the administration occurs. Until this happens, more and more transgender and queer students will come to Fordham only to be disregarded and erased from campus. Fordham executives, how hard can it be to change your policies to recognize us, to accommodate for our basic needs or to make any effort to improve the wellbeing of TGNC people at Fordham? Based on your complete apathy towards our experiences, I can tell that, for whatever reason, you would much rather have us feel isolated, ignored and unvalued.
Had I known all of this last year, I would not have even considered attending this university. Fordham may have given me their letter of acceptance, but they only accepted “me” as the 4.0 GPA, the 36 ACT score and the 5s on AP exams. They never accepted the real me, someone whose very existence is somehow incompatible with Fordham’s Jesuit identity: the me named Aria.