Living in VCU’s first-ever LGBTQIA-friendly residence hall was a spontaneous decision for Gloria Castillo.
The freshman first heard about the option, known as “lavender housing,” as she was applying for housing as a senior in high school. She has now been living in the residence hall for almost 3 months and she’s sure she made the right choice.
“My experience so far has been great, nothing bad. Lavender is a really good place, I’m so glad they have it this year.” Castillo said.
She is among 12 people in the small Cary and Belvidere community, which is the brainchild of a partnership between the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and VCU Residence Life and Housing.
OMSA Director Yolanda Avent said she thought it was necessary and important to have a space exclusively designed to support students.
“It was important for us to make sure that they had a community where they could explore their first identity, but also feel affirmed within those identities particularly within our residence life and housing communities,” Avent said.
This year, VCU became the fourth major Virginia university to adopt the housing option after the University of Richmond, Old Dominion University and George Mason University. In the fall of 2014, George Mason was the latest major Virginia university to institute lavender housing.
Interim Assistant Director of OMSA, Camila Hill, said officials took examples from other schools to implement at VCU.
“When we looked at the framework for this community we did benchmark against some other schools, particularly in the southeast and on the east coast,” Hill said. “I think that ours is gonna progress into a larger community and we have the capacity to do that.”
Students in Lavender Housing participate in monthly programs sponsored by OMSA that focus on LGBTQIA identities, history, and concerns. Castillo said she has already learned much from these programs and better understands how to be an ally to her LGBTQIA friends.
In an interview with the Commonwealth Times last September, Clayton Hall, a senior student who is gay, said he disagreed with the idea of lavender housing.
“I think separating certain students from other students because of their sexuality is a step backwards. Why do we need special housing for gay students? Can’t they just live with everyone else?” Hall said.
Hill said that while she understands where Hall is coming from, she has a different approach to the issue.
“[It’s about] creating a physical space on campus where folks can be and just exist as who they are rather than worry about carving that space for them,” Hill said.
Hill said that she thinks it will help take diversity and inclusion to a new level.
“Engagement in VCU’s community is based on people feeling like they belong,” Hill said. “What we really want with this community is to tell people regardless of what you hear from anyone else you belong here, you’re important, you’re a part of VCU.”
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