Plans move ahead for LGBT affinity house
By Kira Witkin And Lindsay Ellis , The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, September 14, 2012
An LGBT affinity house is expected to open for student use and residence in 2013 or 2014, according to Pam Misener, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership’s advisor to LGBTQA students. Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said that the house will be located on North Park Street.
Johnson did not confirm Misener’s stated time frame, saying that she did not want to “over-promise nor under-promise,” but she said that funding has been identified and will come from the school’s capital budget.
“The idea is to underscore the fact that we are supportive of the LGBT community,” Johnson said. “We are all allies.”
Misener said that students have been pushing for the opening of such a house since she assumed her post in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership in 1999, and College President Jim Yong Kim moved the plans forward several years ago. Despite Kim’s departure and Misener’s plans to leave Dartmouth in January, she expects the house’s development to continue as planned.
“I feel confident that given everything I know that it’s moving forward and that it continues to have the support that President Kim certainly showed for it,” she said.
The need for the house is more real than ever, Misener said. She added that many employers and graduate schools are looking for employees and students with skills related to LGBT experiences and dynamics, and these skills can be honed through an affinity house.
“I would say without question that this area of learning is critically important for today’s global citizen,” Misener said.
Gender Sexuality XYZ chair Matthew Melikian ’14 said that the new affinity house is important because Dartmouth is lacking viable social spaces other than the Greek system.
“It creates a social space where queer people can be explicitly queer in a queer environment, a space where you aren’t going to have somebody walk by you and randomly yell, ‘Faggot,’” he said. “In some [fraternity] basements, that’s just a thing that happens a lot of the time. Not every space at Dartmouth is warm and accepting to queer people. As much as we’d like that to be the case, that’s just a lie.”
He said he hopes the new house provides “a strong physical centralization for the queer community” and cements the LGBT cultural identity.
“It all comes back to having a physical space to do things, to be able to say, ‘This is ours,’” he said. “That doesn’t exist yet.”
Misener said that the plans she submitted to the College suggest housing space for at least 15 students, a kitchen, laundry room and a social space. The new affinity house will differ from the gender-neutral housing in McClane residence hall because it will provide a more intimate social space with less through traffic. The more private space will facilitate “learning conversations,” she said.
“I think sometimes some of the best conversations are had over laundry,” she said. “There’s a lot of great learning that happens.”
The house will also offer other learning opportunities including guest speakers and movie nights, Misener said.
The application to live in the house has not been finalized, but Misener said it will include questions that will allow application reviewers to create a diverse, compatible group of residents. Applicants will be asked to answer questions such as why they are interested in living in the house and what sorts of qualities they would bring to the residence.
“When you come to Dartmouth, you’re getting a premiere education outside of the classroom if you choose to take advantage of it, and I think this is one of those premiere experiences that is increasingly less Dartmouth,” Misener said. “I want to keep us on the cutting edge.”
Students interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming affinity house.
“I think it’s great to hear that after years of collaboration and discussion between the LGBT community, the administration and [the Office of Residential Life], plans are definitely moving forward,” Anna Roth ’13 said. “There’s a need for an LGBT affinity house because other communities around campus draw a lot of cohesiveness and strength from having a physical residential space on campus, and the LGBT community would similarly benefit from an affinity house.”
Despite excitement for the house, Melikian said he expects some students to voice concern about its opening. He said there exists some fear that the house will become a target of vandalism as the McClane gender-neutral floor did in November 2011. But Johnson said such fear should not hinder plans.
“I have lots of confidence in the Dartmouth community, and I don’t think the concern of a few ignorant people in the community or outside the community should stop us from moving forward with the project,” she said.
Melikian and Roth both noted some students’ concerns that the house will isolate the LGBT community, but Misener emphasized “congregation” over “segregation.”
“I hope the house will provide some very necessary social space, not because people want to self-segregate, but because people want to congregate around their shared interests,” Misener said. “I think everyone wants to have that sense of home, that sense of belonging that you can’t always find on other spaces on campus.”
Johnson said she thinks that the LGBT affinity house will represent Dartmouth’s inclusivity.
“It’s symbolic of the fact that Dartmouth is an inclusive community, where everything is welcome,” she said. “It’s not something we just say. We’ll put our money where our mouth is.”