Salem State Student Claims Housing Discrimination by College
Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 13:05
Note: It is generally the Log's policy to quote sources only if they agree to go on the record. However, in this case we felt the issue was important enough to cover even though the subject declined to have her name be used.
A transgender undergraduate student at Salem State claims that school officials treated her unfairly and unequally when she applied for on-campus housing.
Karen Cady, associate vice president of marketing and communications for Salem State, responded that the school is sensitive to the needs of transgender students and is equipped to help them through gender-neutral housing, which the student has been granted for the 2010-11 academic year.
The student, who asked to not be identified by name (and who will be referred to as “Jane” in this story) identified as male when she started as an undergraduate at Salem State College, but since has undergone the process of becoming female. She is now legally female in Massachusetts because her state identification—that is, her driver’s license—states that she is female.
Jane said the unfair treatment started when she applied for on-campus housing for the 2010-11 academic year. Since she is considered legally female in Massachusetts, she marked on the housing application form that she was female. But the school rejected her application because on previous school documents—which she filled out before she was female—she had marked that she was male. Jane said that her paperwork in PeopleSoft—the school’s online records software—could easily be changed to reflect her current female status.
Her battle with Residence Life and Student Life stems from the conflicting sex/gender identification information in PeopleSoft, said Jane. She said that Residence Life officials told her that if her sex identification in PeopleSoft’s information was changed, they would abide by the updated information. However, after she changed her information in PeopleSoft from male to female, she received a letter from Stan Cahill, Executive Vice President of Student Life, saying that housing assignments are based on biological sex, and that because her previous housing contract designated that she was male, that was what the school had to go by. Jane said that the school never clarified what their definition of “biological sex” is.
Jane said that Cahill’s letter said that her two housing options were either to be assigned to male housing, or to be moved into gender-neutral housing while still being listed as male on the housing application. Jane counters that her main problem with that is she still has to identify being male on the contracts. She criticizes Cahill’s letter because the forms ask applicants to designate their “sex,” not their “biological sex.” She also said that she is forced to say she is male regardless of being legally female in Massachusetts.
Jane designated her sex as male on housing contracts this year, but attached a note saying she felt she was pressured to do this in order to acquire safe housing. For next year, she has been assigned gender-neutral housing, which she said is preferable to living in male housing. She said she wants the campus to adopt a new policy that would make some residence hall rooms co-ed if needed. She said this would take away the stigma of being in gender-neutral housing. Jane fears that people will judge the students living in gender-neutral housing and that gender-neutral housing doesn’t do enough to protect the privacy of students living there.
Jane said she is filing a discrimination claim against the college, which is not the same as a lawsuit because the issue will be presented directly to the school rather than to the courts.
“This situation is ridiculous,” said Jane. “If I just started coming to the school now, I would be given housing. The college has nothing confirming my biological sex. They have my old housing applications that state my sex is male, not my biological sex. This is not a gender identity issue; this is a sex identity issue and sexual discrimination issue. I would like to have female housing because my license says I am female. I don’t identify as transgendered; I identify as female.”
Jane said that while working on campus last summer, she had to live on an all-male Residence Hall floor. She said that she didn’t feel like going home after work because she felt it was a dangerous environment. She added that she felt sexually intimidated on the floor, although no harassment occurred. She said she doesn’t have the financial means to live off-campus and has always lived on campus since starting at Salem State.
Earlier this April, Jane created a Facebook profile called “Salem State Equality” that has more than 160 friends, and a group called “Students Against Salem State Gender Discrimination” that has more than 330 members. She said the purpose of the profile and group is to spread awareness about her housing situation on campus. The group site asks people to contact Kathy Neville, Director of Residence Life, as well as Cahill and President Patricia Meservey on behalf of Jane. Jane said that she plans to keep the group active even after she resolves her situation with the school. Jane said she feels the group is a response to the lack of political ambition in Salem State’s Gay Straight Alliance, although she said the Alliance does a great job planning social events.
Jane said she has contacted advocacy groups beyond Salem State that include Join the Impact, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and Equality Across America. She said that one day of Harvey Milk Week of Action in Boston will be focused on the discrimination she says she is facing at Salem State.
As for why she would not give her name for this story, Jane said, “I don’t want to be a head of any movement. I feel like I shouldn’t have to be. This is anyone’s battle. That is why my name and face are removed from this. I feel that if I gave my name it would hurt my identity for the next 10 years. I don’t see any good putting my name to this. People are vicious with information. This fight is about me, but it’s not specifically my fight.”