A place to come home to An LGBTQ themed Community floor could become reality at carleton residence

By Madeline Lines

Each fall, thousands of university students will take apart their childhood bedrooms to rebuild them in small cinder block rooms with their new roommate a few feet across from them in residence. They’ve chosen a degree, a school, a new place to live, and many will tell them, their futures.

Residence is formatted to soften the blow of what can be a dramatic transition for new students. But what happens when it isn’t? What happens when you don’t quite fit in to the community on your floor, or worse, are alienated from it?

“The story of my roommate was that I came out to her as a lesbian because, at the time, I was a female identifying as a lesbian. She would tell people on the floor that I was against her religion, ‘how dare they room her with a faggot,’ ” said Sam Newman, a coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre at Carleton University.

Newman is a transgender man whose exploration in gender and sexuality began when he moved in to residence at Carleton, where being assigned female at birth, he came out as a lesbian to his residence floor. He has since come to identify as a transgender man.

“I went to my res fellow and he said ‘we can move you in to another room, but we can’t guarantee it’s going to be safer for you,’ ” said Newman. “I was forced in to this space for eight months, and I would call my mom begging to see if she could get a hotel room for me so I could get out of my space.”

Sam Newman is a co-ordinator at the Carleton Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre (photo by Madeline Lines)

Newman’s story of discrimination in residence is the type that drove Mars Ramlogan, a residence fellow on ninth floor Glengarry house, to propose an LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer)-themed residence floor to their residence manager in early 2017.

Ramlogan is a non-binary social work student, living and working on the leadership themed floor in Carleton residence. The leadership floor is one of five themed communities, which aim to bring together students with similar interests to form a tight-knit and supportive community.

“They can do activities that are connected to the theme, they know that somebody that’s living next to them probably has a common interest, so that increases that sense of community,” said Natalie Allan, assistant director of Residence Life Services at Carleton.

Ramlogan first came up with the idea of the LGBTQ identity themed floor after a series of instances of LGBTQ students coming to them and looking for support with gender and sexuality based discrimination, or at worst, instances of sexual assault.

At the moment, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre is the only place on campus that is a designated safe space for LGBTQ students. The small room is tucked away in the back of the fourth floor of University Centre and often goes unnoticed by incoming students.

“It’s not overnight, it’s not on weekends, it’s not in the summers, and like I said, my hours are being cut,” said Newman.

Carleton residence boasts a policy of inclusion and diversity, and has their residence fellows go through gender and sexuality related training, says Allan. But many in the LGBTQ community insist this isn’t enough to protect students, say Ramlogan and Newman.

“If you get people who are trans and male identified and you get roomed with a man that doesn’t understand it, or a woman, as a trans woman — Jesus. Trans women are an even higher risk of violence. And res currently has no way to accommodate that,” said Newman.

“I definitely feel like residence blankets the terms diversity, and inclusion, and safety,” said Ramlogan. “Because that’s something that they’ve consistently pushed on to students and on to workers as something they really prioritize, but in practice it hasn’t been that way at all.”
Mars Ramlogan is the residence fellow proposing the floor (photo by Madeline Lines)

Ramlogan expressed having hit a block in the development of the floor after their residence manager had neglected to pitch the idea to the higher-ups without Ramlogan putting more work in to the practical planning of the floor, they said.

“It’s very hard to make someone who’s a student… who’s probably also working… and also just trying to navigate your relationships and your mental health and giving time for yourself… to dedicate the rest of your time to making sure this project or this floor happens. It’s very unrealistic to have one person do that and not engage in any sort of proper advocacy coming from the admin side,” said Ramlogan.

(photo by Madeline Lines)

An LGBTQ-ally floor is a reality at Western University, just over 600 kilometres southwest of Carleton. The floor was created about four or five years ago from the requests of a number of students and campus partners, says Melissa Steadman, residence coordinator at Western.

“The intent of the floor was to create an environment where students that are in the LGBTQ community… could come together and talk about social justice issues, talk about gender issues, talk about women’s studies, those types of things,” said Steadman. “And to create an environment where individuals could come and share their stories, lean on each other for support, and advocate on behalf of their peers.”

Western’s LGBTQ floor was spearheaded by the residence office after the LGBTQ community voiced the need for it, and since has been formed in consultation with Pride Western, LGBTQ students, and many others. Steadman says it functions within the same structure of other themed floors on residence, but with a personal identity based focus.

To sign up for the floor, students simply check a box indicating their interest on their residence application form and fill out a short blurb explaining why. What some may see as the catch is that the floor exists based on demand.

(photo by Madeline Lines)

“This year we actually didn’t have the floor, because we didn’t have enough students interested in the community. We found that it was more important for us to have a floor of everyone who buys in to the community, than backfilling the community,” said Steadman.

Western’s floor is an example of the possible successes and challenges facing the floor at Carleton. Even among the supporters of the floor at Carleton, there are practical concerns.

“I think it’s a good idea but I think at the same time we have to be careful because I think it doesn’t shelter people, but it creates that bubble atmosphere, where it’s like you’re gonna be with the same people… when it’s like, the whole world isn’t like that,” said Austin Pellizzer, a residence fellow at Carleton who identifies as gay.

Austin Pellizzer is a residence fellow on 3rd floor Glengarry, the Media and Technology themed community. (photo by Madeline Lines)

“I think it’s a good idea for those who want it. Obviously, if you want to live with straight people you can live with straight people, and non-LGBT identifying people — that’s fine. No one’s forcing you to be on the LGBT floor, it’s just for those who want it,” said first-year student Destiny Dekock, who identifies as bisexual and currently lives in Carleton residence.

Destiny Dekock is a first-year film student, who identifies as bi, living on second floor Stormont house.

News of the floor hadn’t reached top-tier administration at Carleton residence, and Allan was surprised to hear about it, although she said she knew of other universities with “rainbow” floors.

“What you’re telling me is brand new. So I’m not sure what that would look like… I think if they would want to have discussions with us about that, that’s great,” said Allan.

But the idea of an LGBTQ themed community lives on in the hopes of many in the queer community on campus, although it is currently unclear whether it will become reality.

“A lot of people will see it as separatism, or trying to divide people based on certain parts of their identity. But realistically, in our society today, groups collect and create communities,” said Ramlogan. “We create these communities because we need to feel some sort of safety, some sort of belonging and understanding that just doesn’t happen on a day-to-day basis.”

“If you can’t have a safe space to come home to, where do you build on that, where do you go?” said Newman. “Where do you let your guard down? When you have a hard day in the world, and you have those conversations where you’re told that you don’t matter, where are you allowed to go?”

(graphic by Madeline Lines)


Photo credits: Madeline Lines

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