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Living and Learning Authentically: an Inclusive Space for LGBTQIA+ Students






When deciding on a college, most students prioritize affordable tuition and desired degree programs.

For Sorrel Rosin, an openly transgender freshman at the University of Oregon, finding an institution offering a safe and respectful environment mattered the most.

People who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer or non-conforming have historically been targets of physical, mental and verbal abuse in academic and social settings, according to many psychologists.

For students in this underrepresented community who are pursuing higher education, finding support as they discover and accept their identity is essential. According to a 2017 study by the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, self-identified transgender students from more than 73 college campuses reported greater exposure to trauma and higher rates of suicidal experiences, as well as different causes of reported stressful periods, than their cisgender peers.

Additionally, The Youth Suicide Prevention Program reports that more than 50 percent of transgender youths will attempt suicide by the time they reach the age of 20, and gay youths are more than four times as likely to be suicidal than their peers. The added stress of leaving for college is when supporting thesestudents is critical.

When I was looking at colleges, I didn’t think there was going to be a comfortable place for me to live, and it was really concerning.

“When I was looking at colleges, I didn’t think there was going to be a comfortable place for me to live, and it was really concerning,” Rosin said. “I was one of the first transgender kids to come out at my high school, and people didn’t like me very much, so there is a reason I came to college 2,000 miles away from home.”

After Google searches and a campus visit to UO, Rosin discovered the Gender Equity

Floor, which houses students in an inclusion initiative called the LGBTQIA+ Scholars Academic Residential Community (ARC). “When I came to visit and I saw the school, walking around campus was the first time I felt like people weren’t staring at me like I was some object or alien,” they said.

The LGBTQIA+ Scholars ARC is one of many campus inclusion initiatives for LGBTQIA+ students that has earned UO national praise. Rosin’s roommate, Kinsley Ballas, a junior transfer student, found out about the ARC during her housing application.

Ballas identifies as gay and grey asexual, which means she doesn’t know when she will be sexually attracted to others.

“It can be really nerve racking, especially in living environments, to be around people who may not totally understand your gender identity or agree with it,” she said. “In this community, you don’t have to worry about that backlash because you’re in an accepting situation.”

After the ARC’s inception, and the addition of numerous institutional and student-run inclusion initiatives, including a Queer Ally Coalition, an OUTlist and an LGBTQ Alliance, UO was honored as one of the top 25 schools for LGBTQIA+ students in 2015. It has remained in the top 25 as of 2017 and

is the best in Oregon as of 2018, according to the campus pride index (CPI).

The CPI is operated and measured by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the experience of LGBTQIA+ students pursuing higher education. The index is measured by the aggregation and analysis of programs universities provide for LGBTQ students.


Dr. Dean Mundy, a public relations professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at UO, who researches diversity in PR campaigns and other organizations, said that UO’s superior resources and prestige, compared to other institutions, may affect the merit of this rating. In other words, a university offering similar or better inclusion programs may not receive a fair evaluation.

Despite this, the index is helping the university’s marketability and is attracting students looking for an inclusive experience, he said.

“When you’re 17, 18 thinking about school, regardless if you’re out to yourself or others, something like the CPI helps prospective students determine if this environment is going to help them with their academic and social experience,” Mundy said.

Many out-of-state LGBTQIA+ Scholars ARC students come to UO because of this index, said ARC faculty director Dr. Judith Raiskin. “However, the culture on campus could still be a little better,” she said. According to Mundy, improving this culture may rely on a concentrated effort to strengthen relationships and connections among the student body. “If you meet somebody who is

different from you, the level of any prejudice is dramatically lower,” he said.


UO is certainly not the only educational institution offering gender inclusive housing and identity-based courses; however, what’s unique about the operation of UO’s identity-based ARC is that students can take queer and women’s and gender studies courses, as well as other similar social justice courses, with a student cohort that elects to live on the GEF.




LGBT youth were







Rosin and Ballas are two of 19 students currently in the LGBTQIA+ Scholars ARC. Both students and their classmates recently completed research about queer history and presented their findings and its significance at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on May 17.

Ballas and her partner chose to research the Lesbian Land communities that developed in southern Oregon in the ‘60s and ‘70s due to the politically charged time period. They paid particular attention to key figures that lived in the community like Tee Corinne, a famous writer, photographer and artist who depicted female sexuality.

“It helps you see where communities are coming from, where some movements come from and why older people within that community think about things the way that they do,” Ballas said.

But Ballas has learned about more than just history.

“Coming from a conservative community and a conservative family, I wasn’t super knowledgeable about the community here, and so it has been really nice getting to explore and experience different identities and learn about people,” she said. “It has been very educational.

The ARC is known as the culmination of two separate campus developments. The academic portion was initially intended to be an introduction to queer studies in a

Freshman Interest Group (FIG), another UO program aiming to help incoming freshman acclimate socially and academically. As a FIG exclusively, it gained little traction, according


of LGBTQ youth expressed suicide

ideation during 2017.

The other development was conceived through the process by which all ARCs are created.

According to Dr. Kevin Hatfield, who serves as the director of Academic Residential and Research Initiatives —a joint position with the Division of Undergraduate Studies and the Department of Residence Life — the common approach for creating an ARC relies on strategically orchestrated groups of students, faculty, alumni and other

administrators coming together to develop a proposal that identifies goals and outcomes for a specific campus community, as well as its allies.

Hatfield said the main question considered during the early stages of the LGBTQIA+ Scholars initiative asked campus community members a specific question: Where do learning communities that engage in respectful dialogue - or brave spaces, exist on campus?

Where do learning communities that

engage in respectful dialogue - or brave spaces, exist on campus?

Once the Gender Equity Floor opened in Carson Hall in 2011, Raiskin and Dr. Julie Heffernan, a professor in the Department of Education, saw the development as an opportunity.

“Julie and I thought: wouldn’t it be great if students on the Gender Equity Floor took an intro to queer studies course?” Raiskin said. “So, the ARC kind of developed from that.” The main goal for this ARC is providing an equal, opportunity-driven college experience without the fatigue of daily microaggressions and any explicit, systematic bias, Hatfield said. The ARC is the direct result of feedback from faculty, students and administrators who identified shortcomings within the university landscape.

“Other goals for the LGBTQIA+ Scholars ARC consist of educational retention, increasing quality or quantity of first year students’ connections to faculty and having a cohort of students who take classes together,” Hatfield added.

Measuring effectiveness of ARCs looks at the impact on retention, cumulative GPAs and time to graduation. Linear regression analysis of control groups, accounting for specific variables, such as a high school GPA, and any other correlation from ARC

participation have been conducted, according to Hatfield, who cautioned that statistical data for LGBTQIA+ students on college campuses is usually not reflective of the actual number of students in the community.

To help with this statistical obstacle, UO has recently expanded the gender identification section of the application process. According to Dr. Mundy, not many schools are doing this.

Additionally, more psychosocial, non-cognitive benefits of the ARC — which include sense of belonging, resource seeking and life fulfillment — are also showing positive results through surveying, Hatfield said.

As ARCs grow, they require more faculty support and greater budget. Additionally, the UO has residence halls with varying room costs.

There are some students in the extended LGBTQIA+ campus community who can’t afford the double room and sink orientation on Carson’s GEF, according to Rosin.

To alleviate some of these varying room costs, there are no ARC fees at UO, Hatfield said.

Another challenge is keeping students engaged throughout the entire academic year.

“This is the first year that most students have stayed with the ARC for the entire year, so we are doing something right,” Raiskin said. “But there is a double edged sword at play. Visibility can leave students more susceptible to hate, but it also gives students a sense of community.”

Other problems come from an incredibly high RA turnover rate in the housing department in general, especially on the Gender Equity Floor,where the Academic Residential Community assistant (ARCA) left midway through fall term, according to





because they were afraid for their safety.

The goal with the position is to create a smooth working environment and productive collective experience.

“Ideally we have an RA or ARCA that works with me, knows what I’m doing and can coordinate with the students about events and programming,” Raiskin said.

Ballas is stepping in to the position fall term. Her experience with the ARC in her first year at UO has motivated her to help provide the same experience for others.

“I really love being in the ARC,” Ballas said. “It has really helped me meet people and be comfortable here. I want to be able to help people have a good, supportive experience next year and make sure we create the best ARC possible.”



DMU Timestamp: October 14, 2021 23:55

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