Aaron Warga (SFS ’18) was tabling in Red Square for Transgender Day of Visibility when an admitted student asked about Georgetown’s housing process for gender-nonconforming students. Warga was at a loss for what to say.
“They said ‘I am nonbinary, I identify as they/them/theirs. What are the housing policies here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a pretty binary, gendered housing policy,’” Warga said. “There’s no gender-neutral housing or mixed-gender housing. That was clearly something that was very important to them and I don’t know if they’re here now.”
While Georgetown remains the first Jesuit university in the United States to have an LGBTQ Resource Center, student leaders and LGBTQ-identified students on campus have said the university does not offer enough spaces for the LGBTQ community.
The rejection of a proposed living and learning community for the 2017-18 school year called “Crossroads: Gender and Sexuality” by the Office of Residential Life symbolized the tension between Catholic identity and inclusion of queer students, according to the Georgetown University Student Association LGBTQ Inclusivity policy team Chair Grace Smith (COL ’18).
A Place to Call Home
Smith joined the LGBTQ Inclusivity team in the fall of 2016 within the administration of then-Georgetown University Student Association President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) with the goal of creating a community designated for students whom the current housing protocol does not accommodate.
Georgetown’s housing policy currently allows for students to live with other students who share their same gender identity, as long as those students identify as one of two binary genders — that is, as male or female.
Students currently have the option to change their names in MyAccess to reflect their chosen names. But when a student identifies as gender-nonconforming, they must choose to live with either men or women, even if they identify as neither.
“I imagine it to be very toxic to be placed in a living situation where, by being in that space, it’s implied that you’re a gender you don’t identify with,” said Warga, who planned to be the resident assistant for Crossroads LLC.
The LLC, though not explicitly proposed for gender-nonconforming students, was planned as a space where those students could find the appropriate housing and a sense of community.
Additionally, the space would have been a place to “promote knowledge, critical conversation and a deeper understanding of LGBTQ histories, cultures, and social and political movements,” according to LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman, who helped advise the students involved in the proposal, though the center itself was not involved in the initiative.
“Unlike some other identities, since this is an invisible identity, it is not often easy to find one another in safe ways,” Subbaraman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Most important, it was hoped that the LLC would provide a way to start critical thinking and conversations on LGBTQ communities, and how it connects to our broader mission on campus.”
Grappling With Catholic Identity
When Smith met with representatives from the Office of Residential Living, she felt the decision not to approve Crossroads was not solely in the hands of university administrators like Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson.
“I think this is a much larger fight over how Georgetown wants to live its Catholic values and what those Catholic values are,” Smith said.
Olson cited the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Women’s Center and Campus Ministry as examples of Georgetown’s commitment to support students “in exploring their spiritual and personal identities and interests,” though he also noted the LLC proposal could not be approved.
“The proposal did raise concerns about how our housing arrangements align with our Catholic and Jesuit mission,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown has previously come under scrutiny for its alignment with Catholic values. In 2013, the late “The Exorcist” author William Peter Blatty (CAS ’50) filed a petition to the Vatican to strip Georgetown of its Catholic and Jesuit labels for not adhering to Catholic values. In January 2016, the Cardinal Newman Society published a 124-page dossier that has been cited by more recent versions of Blatty’s petition. Included in the report is 18 pages on “homosexuality” on campus.
“What’s really at contention is how progressive Georgetown wants to be and how radical they want to be, but also how Catholic they want to be,” Smith said. “And I think they’re seeing those as mutually exclusive in specific instances like this.”
LGBTQ Life on Campus in the Current Moment
The LGBTQ Inclusivity policy team has made progress in the last year to implement changes on campus for LGBTQ students, however. In March, the university began the process of making single-stall restrooms in public buildings both gender-inclusive and accessible.
Additionally, according to Executive Director for Residential Services Patrick Killilee, the team and the LGBTQ Resource Center succeeded in adding a statement to the first page of housing applications with contact information for transgender and nonconforming students to request “safe, comfortable and appropriate housing.”
However, even as the resource center approaches its 10th anniversary this fall, the university is not always a welcoming space for LGBTQ students, Warga said.
“During my freshman year alone I knew a gay student whose roommate immediately switched rooms after finding out he was gay, another gay student who was chased and called homophobic slurs outside his dorm, another whose floor mates banged on his door repeatedly calling him a faggot,” Warga said. “It should never be the case that someone feels unsafe or that they have to police the way they express themselves in their own living space, which is often their most personal and intimate environment.”
An Unwavering Effort
Smith said her ultimate goal is to see the approval of Crossroads before she graduates next year. The LGBTQ Inclusivity policy team plans to resubmit the housing proposal next semester and continue collaborating with Georgetown administration to “hold the university accountable to its commitment to queer students,” according to Smith.
“The LLC would have played a huge part in creating a space that normalized queerness, affirmed gender identity and made students feel safe,” Warga said. “Given the current political climate and rise in bias-related incidents on campus, I think there is clearly a need to create living spaces like these for LGBTQ students and other students with targeted identities.”