Location sought for LGBT house
By Pallavi Kuppa Apte, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, October 21, 2011
A preliminary location search for a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender affinity house is underway as students and administrators continue to finalize plans for such a house, according to Pam Misener, advisor to LGBT students and the acting director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership.
Students have been working with administrators to launch an affinity program focused on the LGBT community that can offer “an experiential education opportunity,” Misener said.
“I think this house will certainly have the potential to help all students become skilled and practiced in understanding gender identity and the complexity of our experiences, and that can only be a good thing,” she said. Students will have ownership over the goals of their learning experience and will have a voice in deciding the curriculum of the program, according to Misener. The house will be able to host meetings and socials and will also be able to invite LGBT speakers, she said.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to bring LGBT guests to campus,” Misener said. “If we have somebody who’s here to be a part of the LGBT community and speak about their experiences, to be able to host them in the house for a meal, or have them read from a book, or speak to students is really, really exciting,”
Zachary De ’12, former president of Gender, Sexuality, XYZ and active participant in establishing the affinity program said the house could serve as a safe alternative social space for LGBT students on campus.
“I want to see something that is a mixture of academic and social environments,” De said. “Making it gender-neutral is really important, because there’s such a lack of those spaces on campus.”
Students will not have to identify as LGBT in order to live in the house, which will be open to students interested in learning about the experience, according to Misener. De confirmed that the house would be “LGBT inclusive but not allies exclusive.”
The affinity house is expected to accommodate between 12 and 25 people, although a definitive number has not been established, according to Misener. Like other affinity housing options, students will have to complete an application to live in the house, Misener said. The application will similar to the application students must submit when they want to live on the gender neutral floor in the Fahey-McClane Cluster, she said.
“What we want to know from applicants is what kind of experiences they have had relative to thinking critically, why they are interested and what they can bring to the house,” Misener said. “We also want to know about the applicants themselves so we can bring together a group of people who can share in that learning experience.”
The process of establishing the affinity house began almost two years ago, when LGBT students met with College President Jim Yong Kim to discuss a variety of options to expand resources for the LGBT community, according to Misener. In the meeting, students expressed their desire for a residential space, she said.
“Since then what we’ve been doing is all the work involved — working in partnership with facilities people, with others in the Dean of the College area, connecting with the faculty side of campus, developing a program statement that connects the curricular aspects of any program like that,” Misener said. “Right now, the program statement is largely done and they’re in a process of identifying the facility.”
Director of Media Relations for the College Justin Anderson emphasized that the process of implementing the program is still in its preliminary stages.
“There is this programmatic document that needs to be completed,” Anderson said. “I think that document needs to be refined and approved and maybe refined again. It’s too soon to be talking about funding. We haven’t hit the milestones we need to reach in order to make visible progress.”
De said he expected the approval process would be lengthy.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s going to take a while but baby steps is just how you’re going to get it done when it’s something as big as this,” he said.
While the process may seem slow, Misener said the initiative for the affinity house is a sign of major progress.
“We are so excited for this opportunity,” she said. “We have been having this conversation off and on for easily 10 years and every time we get a little further, but in this moment we feel like this could be a reality sooner rather than later.”
Although it is not yet clear where the house will be located, De said hopes it will be visible on campus.
“It makes a very powerful statement to have an LGBT affinity house where a lot of alums could see it,” De said. “It would mean a lot for the student body to see it every day walking to class. Some people would say that makes it vulnerable, and we want to provide a safe place, but part of what makes it safe is claiming it for ourselves.”
GSX has led efforts to establish the affinity house, but students of different backgrounds, class years and campus groups have contributed to the process.
“With every single year we get people who really want to see the affinity house get one step closer to reality,” De said.
Alumni have also expressed excitement for the program, according to Misener.
“I think a [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Allied] affinity house holds great potential for Dartmouth, and I hope we see the idea come to fruition in the near future,” Caroline Kerr ’05, president of the Dartmouth Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Association, said in an email to The Dartmouth. “Ideally this would be a safe space for LGBTQA students as well as a space open to all members of the Dartmouth community and alumni body.”
Students interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed hope for the social opportunities the affinity house could offer the LGBT community.
“Dartmouth got a five-star rating from the Campus Climate Index but those stars are not for social life, but there’s no policy that Dartmouth can enact to make that better,” Adrian Ferrari ’14 said. “It’s just a student culture thing, and will an affinity house help? Maybe.”
De said the affinity program is an important step in expanding the resources the College offers to LGBT students.
“I’ve realized after visiting a lot more schools that there’s a lot more work to be done,” he said.