Putting the inclusive in Gender-Inclusive Housing
KY WATNICK/ QUAKER CAMPUS    New additions to Harris, such as this flag, serves as reminders of belonging to all students residing in the gender-inclusive housing.

KY WATNICK/QUAKER CAMPUS

New additions to Harris, such as this flag, serves as reminders of belonging to all students residing in the gender-inclusive housing.

Never-before-seen decorations and events are taking Gender-Inclusive Housing by storm this year. From furnishings to functions, every inch of Harris A, the GIH dorm is striving to be representative of its population this year. Thanks to the combined work from Housing and Residential Life along with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, there is a decidedly different atmosphere in GIH this year.

There are pride flags hanging proudly outside, painted flags and phrases on the windows, pride flag pillows, and even an all-inclusive LGBTQIA+ tapestry in the downstairs lounge. Perhaps the most impressive addition is the collection of trans artwork displayed in the lounge area itself. Tucked between strong depictions of trans people standing united are powerful poems expressing the trans experience.

Third-year Cole DiGrazia had a large role in putting together these incredible decorations. “I feel like, as someone that is living there, I’m a little bit of an ‘unofficial consultant’ just to make sure that the changes that they’re making are equitable and inclusive of the target demographic, which is trans and gender-nonconforming students,” said DiGrazia. “We got a chance to decorate the dorm to reflect different LGBTQIA+ identities and make the space feel more inclusive. We wanted to distinguish it as GIH and not just an afterthought of ‘here is where we will put GIH, and it’s just like any other dorm.’”

In another attempt at bettering inclusivity, the colorful cut-outs Poets affectionately know as “Door Decs” have been revamped this year in GIH. Not only do they have a completely gender-neutral theme, they display each person’s preferred name and pronouns. Every student in GIH was asked what name and pronouns they would like on their doors with a promise that they could be updated at any time if preferences changed.

“I really love how decorated the dorm is this year, and I like the addition of pronouns to the Door Decs,” said third-year Residential Advisor Tatiana Rivera. She created the door decorations for every student in the dorm, which are hanging banners with each name on a different hanging flag. Pronouns are included like a nametag beneath, welcoming everyone to learn and use the right pronouns for their neighbors.

The normalization of pronoun use in day-to-day conversation is just one of the many small systematic changes that everyone can work on to make a space more accepting. On the first day in the dorms, a floor meeting was called in which Interim Area Director of Upper Campus Housing Allison Reyes came to the dorms to reinforce this concept through meaningful conversation.

“There was definitely more intentionality in the first floor meeting we had. Allison [Reyes] just kind of talked about why we have Gender Inclusive Housing, which we didn’t have last year,” said DiGrazia. “It definitely provides a more welcoming atmosphere for trans and gender-nonconforming students to have a say in how we are represented.”

In an email to students in Harris A, Reyes reinforced these ideals after an incident in which pronouns were not being presented and respected. “It has come to my attention that after I left that meeting, some members of the community did not demonstrate the respect that I’d discussed, and others said nothing to confront this behavior,” said Reyes in her email. “I am disappointed to hear this, and I want to make it clear that behavior such as laughing while your peers are disclosing their pronouns and saying that pronouns don’t matter will not be tolerated.”

In addition to addressing the inappropriate behavior, Reyes included some resources for people to better their understanding of pronoun-use practices on their own time. From common misconceptions to importance, the resources cover the vital aspects of pronoun-sharing as a cultural norm. “Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, would like to learn more, or experience anything that does not align with GIH values by emailing me at aduffy@whittier.edu  or visiting me in my office in Wanberg 102,” said Reyes in closing.

Another important way that Reyes is supporting the trans students at Whittier is in planning events that highlight and support the community. For example, in October, around Homecoming, there will be a drag show put on by GIH as a way of reaching out to a larger part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is the one large event for the semester; however, they are planning several small events before winter break that both highlight and include the LGBTQIA+ students of WC.

“I wasn’t involved in much of the restructuring [of the dorms], other than planning floor programs centered around equity and inclusion, though I will be involved with helping plan the Whittier Pride event,” said Rivera. “Something that I’m extra excited for is to be involved with OEI and to plan more for our dorm.”

These changes come in the wake of a series of meetings that trans students living in GIH last year had with Housing and Residential Life. Those meetings were kept private to the students involved, but were based around the concept of better including trans people in their on-campus community and improving the comfortability and safety of GIH for the next year.

“The training we received this year was extremely beneficial and framed really well this year,” said Rivera. “I believe the training was more detailed and more interactive, which allowed us all to better understand the importance of equity, inclusivity, and celebration of differences.”

It seems that the overall wish from everyone this year is to have a more inclusive and considerate living space for the people living in GIH. This is a strong step in a more progressive direction for the College as a whole. Hopefully, this step will spread from this one little corner of campus to the rest over time.