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Friday, December 4, 2020

For LGBTQ+ students, help comes at an important time

From housing to virtual lectures, student and faculty-led programming takes a new face in the 2020 school year.

Construction on Western’s new residence hall began in late 2019. As programming begins to take shape, committees vy for space in the new building.
Construction on Western’s new residence hall began in late 2019. As programming begins to take shape, committees vy for space in the new building.

By Tunny Parrish

The leaves around a sparsely-populated campus have turned shades of yellow. September slid into October and socially-distant midterms are beginning to creep up. But for Vicki Vanderwerf, the associate director of Western’s Residence Life, all eyes are on next year. 

“It feels so far away, fall 2021,” Vanderwerf said. “But fall quarter is when we start making decisions for next year.”

Western’s newest residential hall, currently on the footprint that used to be Highland Hall, is slated to open to residents in fall 2021. The residential hall boasts suite-style living, study lounges, community kitchens on every floor and a multipurpose room designed for movie nights and presentations. Vanderwerf hopes that it will bring some much-needed accessibility to the Ridge. Currently, no residence halls on the Ridgeway have elevators or wheelchair-accessible options. The new residence hall will have both.

Holly Diaz, assistant director of Residence Life, was part of the team last year that voted to change the program’s name from Gender-Inclusive Housing to Pride Housing. “We had several conversations in this committee, and it was really the students that had brought forth … that [Gender-Inclusive Housing] was misleading and didn’t really tell the true story of what we were bringing forth,” Diaz said.

At Western, gender-neutral housing is available in four on-campus living spaces, and can also provide safe spaces for couples or family members living together. However, Diaz says, Pride Housing boasts programs specifically for those in the LGBTQ+ community who would like extra resources and support.

Diaz said other options are available for students that would prefer living without the extra programs available in Pride Housing. However, Pride Housing provides necessary resources for students in the LGBTQ+ community, especially at a time when their programs are more crucial than ever.

Before COVID-19 swept the U.S., LGBTQ+ adults reported higher rates of unemployment and poverty than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. Almost 80% of transgender college students surveyed by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine met the criteria for one or more diagnosable mental illnesses, compared to 45% of cisgender students. And both LGBTQ+-identifying people and college students are more likely to work in service industries impacted by COVID-19 than the general population. 

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