By: Kaitlin Davis
When coming to college, one of the most exciting and nerve-racking times throughout the whole process is picking the right dorm to live in. Luckily, West Virginia University has many options to choose from, and many students opt to live with those kids who they know prior to coming to WVU. However, awaiting the email that states where and with who you will be living with comes with mixed emotions.
Students who identify as LGBTQ may face more anxiety over the process as they don’t know how their future roommate or floor mates will treat them. 20% of college students fear for their physical safety due to their gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The most common form of harassment directed at LGBTQ students is derogatory remarks, but verbal threats, graffiti and the pressure to remain quiet about one’s identity are also common.
WVU does better among other universities across the United States when looking at inclusion, but we could do better. According to the Campus Pride Index, which is a national survey that ranks how LGBTQ-friendly a college is based on its services it offers and the policies it has in place, for the past couple of years we have stayed at 1.5 out of 5 stars.
But now WVU has made a big step in the right direction by creating a LGBTQA & Gender Inclusive Living Community called True Colors that will be an option for students in Fall of 2016. After five years of development, LGBTQ students now have this option available to them. True Colors is intended to be a safe, inclusive, comfortable and supportive community for students and all gender identities, sexual orientations and expressions.
“You get to be with people who are just like you, you get to live with them,” said Katherine Geleta, WVU Spectrum President. “I feel like in the dorms if you don’t want to come out or be ‘out out’ all the way you just force back into the closet.”
Geleta, when asked what anxieties or fears LGBTQ students may have before coming to WVU, stated, “I mean it’s scary because you never know what your roommate is going to think of it. You don’t know, they could be completely homophobic and you won’t know till the first day.”
In addition to not knowing how your roommate is going to feel, LGBTQ students are also unaware of their floor dynamic before coming to WVU. “You also don’t know the dynamic of your floor. I lived in Towers my freshman year and I never talked to anyone, I rarely left my room,” said Mary Valdez, a member of WVU Spectrum.
38 colleges currently offer gender-neutral housing options for LGBTQA students, according to the College Equality Index.
True Colors is located on the 4th floor of Stalnaker Hall. Students in this community will live in a double occupancy room that shares a bathroom with another room. Both rooms will be gender inclusive for the entire academic year.
“[In a dorm] you talk to a lot of people especially if it’s a community bathroom and that is different than with Stalnaker, which is you have your own bathroom, you’re not necessarily closed off, but it’s a lot different in the way friendships are made,” said Valdez.
Granted, many resident assistants in dorm rooms have safe zone stickers that are a symbol of “a visible message of inclusion, support, and allyship for all orientations, genders, identities, and levels of being ‘out,'” according to WellWVU’s website. But this True Colors community takes inclusivity and comfort to a whole new level.
Students who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming are able to pick or choose a roommate of any gender to make those students more comfortable. Any LGTBQ student is able to take part in the True Colors community, no matter their class rank.
This community has been in the works for the past five years and was actually attempted last year, according to Allison Cutlip, HelpWELL Program Coordinator. Last year the program didn’t go as expected due to the lack of people knowing about it.
The community last year offered “pockets” of rooms that were assigned on a case by case basis. Now, a whole floor has been dedicated to the True Colors community and holds somewhere around 25 spots for students.
Students simply have to complete both the True Colors community application and the University Housing application and pay the $225 housing deposit. The True Community Application addresses basic questions, but also goes on to ask why one is interested in the True Colors community, how one would benefit from this community in addition to having one describe their understanding and comfort level exploring issues of gender and sexual orientation.
“By having True Colors, we are starting to let people know that this is a thing and that you can’t just stop it,” said Valdez.
Interested in rooming within the True Colors Community? Visit the WVU Housing and Residence Life website to find the applications and necessary information.
Also, keep an eye out for the LGBTQ Center that is going to open soon and the LQBTQ minor that will be coming in the fall through the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.
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