With the absence of a guest speaker and major budgets to consider, the Student Senate took Sunday to discuss resolutions regarding the future of transgender housing and the university’s recently passed Amorous Relationship policy – alongside more conventional senatorial fare – in a temporary return to routine.
The first of two major resolutions – R.40.05, entitled “Urging the Implementation of a Transgender Housing Community” and introduced by Sen. Luke O’Connell (Congreve-1) – aimed to urge the university to section off a wing of one residence hall as a “primarily transgender wing” by the 2019-2020 academic year, with the purpose of promoting a “greater sense of community;” its text also called for UNH administration to foster a safer and more “trans-inclusive” campus in the meantime.
As part of its argument, the motion claimed that there exists “a need for the University of New Hampshire to provide safe living spaces for all people” to fully realize the long-term goal of making Durham a more “inclusive community,” citing pilot efforts by the Department of Housing to establish gender-inclusive restrooms in residence halls – at the urging of Resolution 37.33 – during the 2017-2018 year, as well as efforts by the Housing Department to officially install 23 gender-inclusive bathrooms in 13 different resident halls the following year.
R.40.05 additionally alluded to the “scattered” nature of current gender-inclusive floors in residence halls, consequently “distancing students from each other who require gender-inclusive spaces and who seek community, reducing the desired effect of implementing gender-inclusivity in housing.”
“There’s one floor where there’s one person that lives in a non-binary room, per say, and everybody else that lives on that floor is a cis man,” O’Connell said as she described instances of transgender students feeling both included and isolated due to the lack of the proposed wing. “So, yes, it is a gender-inclusive wing, but it’s not a community.”
In promoting the motion to the body, the senator expressed hope that, regarding previous steps to address gender-inclusivity on campus, it would produce a “different effect” in terms of providing more communal housing for non-binary students, given the present absence of non-binary floors in residence halls. The senator added that previous talks with members of administration and housing directors have given her multiple “greenlights” in making the proposal a reality.
O’Connell, when asked about the potential location of the “primarily transgender wing,” declined to disclose specifics, citing privacy for students who may be “interested” in the project.
Senators questioning the motion primarily expressed apprehension over the wing’s ability to meet the deadline of the next academic year. Student Trustee Christian Merheb proposed that O’Connell delay the 2019-2020 deadline due to concerns that if the Housing Department “rushes” into the project, it not have enough time to create an adequate transgender wing nor pick the “right place” to house the wing in.
Sen. Cody Belanger (Non-Resident 5) also expressed caution over the motion’s approval, stating that UNH residence halls are presently at “max capacity” and would thus present difficulties and “restraints” in successfully housing transgender students in one location, potentially at the expense of other student populations such as incoming first-year students. Belanger advised the Senate to consider the entire university population in such situations and not ignore the needs of any one group of students.
In spite of those and similar worries, other members of the chamber conveyed support for the motion, with Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) Chair Joshua Velez calling it “long overdue,” while Community Development (CD) Chair Nelson Idahosa stressed that having a space where transgender students feel “comfortable” would both strengthen the whole community and help it have a better sense of its doings and dilemmas.
“It’s not like [the Housing Department] is constructing a new building; they’re simply taking places and things that already exist and consolidating them into one location, which will give these students more of a sense of community that they need in order to thrive on campus.” Sen. Logan Stevens (Peterson 1, Co-1) stated in favor of the motion.
R.40.05 ultimately passed the Senate with one nay.
Resolution 40.06 – entitled “Concerning the USNH Amorous Relationship Policy,” brought to the floor by Student Body Vice President Jake Adams and co-introduced by a host of others – urged the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) to provide clarity to its currently “broad” definition of an “amorous” relationship and its impact on students and student employees, as it currently bans any faculty, staff or student employee working “hourly or otherwise” from engaging in any relationship with a student in which an “uneven power dynamic” may form between the student and employee in question, especially surrounding student-faculty relationships.
The resolution also aimed to urge USNH to provide clear definitions for the term “student employee” concerning amorous relationships, as well as clear up what relationships are and are not permitted and which should be reported and monitored.
R.40.06 explicitly maintained that UNH presently gives sole discretionary powers in such situations – and on a case-by-case basis – to the Affirmative Action and Equity Office, granting it the authority to determine whether an imbalanced dynamic exists between the student and employee and what further steps would need to be taken. The motion called such a circumstance “dangerous” and one that could lead to an “abuse of the policy or [the] unfair treatment of individuals,” including students.
The motion also stated that the USNH guidelines do not state a “specific supervisory body” in charge of interpreting the policy, nor does it provide “applicable confidential resources” affected individuals can take advantage of when necessary.
USNH consists of the University of New Hampshire’s Durham and Manchester campuses and School of Law in Concord, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College.
Adams pushed for the resolution not as absolute opposition to the USNH policy but as a way to amend guidelines he called both “far too broad” and “too specific” in how it deals with amorous relationships.
“The issues we have with this – and the reason why we’re putting this up – is because the policy…seemed [to be] put out very haphazardly; it was put out with certain wording in place that essentially prohibits thousands upon thousands of students from relationships for no reason,” he said in speaking about the policy’s effects on student employees and those in organizations like Student Senate.
Adams also criticized the bill’s lack of information regarding where USNH students could find resources in educating themselves on amorous relationships and how to seek out confidential aid in such situations, such as through the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) at UNH. He added that the large list of authors at the head of the resolution was due to the fact that the policy “touches upon every aspect of student life.”
Merheb echoed similar sentiments in his support of the Senate’s motion, adding that the USNH Board of Trustees hoped to “empower” university heads within the system to create policies addressing amorous relationships. Merherb explained that the intent of the original USNH policy was to “make sure there were no situations where people were being taken advantage of,” and that despite its efforts, the policy’s main issue was its lack of clarification and ambiguous language.
R.40.06 ultimately passed the Senate unanimously.
In other senatorial business, as the chamber unanimously approved Michael Brideau as its next Non-Resident 2 senator, its Judiciary Committee lost two members with the unanimously-approved departures of CD Chair Idahosa and Sen. Miranda Weaver (Adams Tower 1, Co-2).
SAFC Chair Velez said during their opening communications that a second round of student organization budget considerations – originally scheduled for this week’s meeting – was pushed back to next week due to personal reasons, as well as other outside commitments and events they have been a part of in recent days, all of which did not grant them sufficient time to properly prepare and hold debate on the remaining budgets.
Following debate over R.40.06, the Senate adjourned at 7:14 p.m.