Gender Inclusive Housing Off to a Successful Start
by Simone Senn
Gender Inclusive Housing (GIH) is a novel program being piloted this academic year by Western’s University Residences. The program provides a non-gendered housing option for students whose gender identity and/or expression varies from the binary male/female paradigm. GIH serves students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and questioning, and other students who believe their gender should not factor into their roommate assignment. Currently, University Residences accommodates thirty students with the GIH program in Buchanan Towers Residence Hall. GIH residents, Buchanan Towers and the campus as a whole have responded positively to GIH, and the program is set up for the highest success.
GIH residents Emmett Moore, Ethan Leonard and Nathan Bakken
Two years of student-led activism endorsing GIH preceded the program’s launch last September. The 2010 WWU Campus Climate Survey, in which 15.46% of LGBT students reported experiencing discrimination, also evidenced a need for the program. University Residences strongly supported the GIH concept from its infancy. The Residential Advisory Committee and a Gender Inclusive Housing Taskforce performed a feasibility study to assess student interest and program implementation and evaluated best practices at peer institutions for gender-neutral housing program development.
For the program’s pilot year, the process of gender-neutral housing assignments was navigated by Karen Walker and program and staff development were led by Buchanan Towers Resident Director Derek Murakami and Assistant Director of Residence Life Hui-Ling Chan. A GIH Advisory Council – including Derek Murakami, Hui-Ling Chan, Karen Walker, Resident Adviser Simone Senn, Woodring Professor Kristen French, Equal Opportunity Associate Laura Langley, and student representatives – now provides ongoing guidance.
Since this housing option is innovative, its development by University Residences was largely a grassroots effort using University Residences’ Resident Education Model (REM). An overarching idea is GIH’s design as an intentional living community that aligns with the REM. GIH is a “living-learning community” with two specific learning outcomes: identity development (intrapersonal) and community collaboration (interpersonal). Current GIH resident Nathan Bakken outlined the power of these learning outcomes, stating: “I chose to live in GIH because I wanted a safe space where I could explore my identity, discuss issues and relate to my neighbors in a way I couldn’t living in standard housing.” Social programs for the GIH floor occur weekly and have explored literature, film, mixed media and current issues concerning sexual and gender variation, all as means of understanding the intersections of identity and community.
The program, like every hall on campus, seeks to foster community for all. The residents of GIH vary in diverse identities across sexual and gender spectrums as well as age, race/ethnicity, ability, and interest. This diversity, and the intentional choice of each resident to live in GIH, has created a strong sense of community. “I chose to live in GIH because it seemed like a great way to find/provide solidarity with people who dealt with many of the same questions, experiences, and conflicts as I did, and that’s exactly what I found,” stated current GIH Resident Ethan Leonard.
The GIH program is already showing significant positive results for Western’s students. According to Leonard, “the best part of GIH has been how new and old friendships alike have been made even stronger, knowing that the floor also served as a massive safe space.” Current GIH resident Emmett Moore likewise affirms the positive impact of living in this intentional community. As Moore says: “This is the safest place I’ve been on campus, for gender, for sexuality, for being me. I am completely out here and that’s what I consider home, it is a place where I can be myself.”
This Spring, staff will evaluate GIH’s pilot year to provide for improvements for the continuation of the program. GIH will return to Buchanan Towers for the 2012-2013 year and is seeking more visibility on campus as a resource for students. Members of the campus community are encouraged to contact Simone Senn at email@example.com to learn more about the program.
Simone Senn is a 4th year student at Western studying Recreation with a double minor in Environmental Education and Women's Studies. Simone is pursuing a career in student affairs. Simone has spent three years serving as a Resident Adviser and currently serves as the RA for GIH. According to Assistant Director of Residence Life Hui-Ling Chan, “Simone has been the critical player in this pilot, implementing the vision of GIH for the benefit of the residents and the larger campus community. Simone’s passion and efforts have made the GIH experience meaningful and memorable for the GIH cluster.”