The sixth floor of Western Washington University’s Alma Clark Glass Hall is designated as the hall’s 'Pride Housing floor.' It’s the only floor on campus with entirely gender-neutral room assignments, but the program goes beyond just gender-neutral housing.
Pride Housing’s mission statement, as provided by Western Residence Life, is “To provide students with opportunities for learning about the development of their own multidimensional personal and social identities.”
“Everyone here is accepted and valued in their own ways,” said Davin Puentes-Windham, a Western first-year student living in Pride Housing. “People here feel they can exist here and not feel bad in that sense for just being themselves.”
Puentes-Windham is part of a large influx of students who have joined Pride Housing this year. According to the housing assignments office, the number of students in Pride Housing jumped from 59 in the fall of 2021 to 140 this quarter.
Before the Pride Housing program started in 2019, Western offered some gender-inclusive housing. While still being a progressive housing option at the time, it lacked the programmatic element that makes Pride Housing a resource for LGBTQ+ students to get help navigating moving away from home for the first time, said Vicki Vanderwerf, Western’s associate director of Residence Life.
Fox Cunningham, one of the resident advisors for Pride Housing, said that having the option of Pride Housing is especially important coming out of a pandemic that has kept many of these students from interacting in person with other LGBTQ+ individuals.
“Younger queer people who may have just come out or come into their own identity may have a lot of misconceptions about how real life treats queer people,” he said. “It’s put 17 to 18-year-old queer people who have only gotten to talk with other queer people online at a steep disadvantage.”
Cunningham wants Pride Housing to fill that void left by the pandemic and give LGBTQ+ students an opportunity to live with like-minded individuals who share their identity.
“I wanted to use my life experience and knowledge to try and foster the kind of community that I would have loved,” Cunningham said.
JoeHahn, Western’s LGBTQ+ director, echoed a similar sentiment.
“I think Pride Housing is a really great opportunity, it's something I wish was present at every institution,” JoeHahn said. “Being able to say, ‘I’m gonna have some time at my university where I’m surrounded by other people who have a shared identity’ is great and having that space can make a student’s experience so much better and more comfortable.”
Pride Housing is located in Alma Clark Glass Hall, Western’s newest state-of-the-art residence hall, because of the large meeting rooms, shared kitchens and generally spacious layout.
“The lounge spaces, the kitchen; it was really intentional to have spaces for students to interact in a social informal way,” Vanderwerf said. “It encourages and facilitates community growth and development.”
The long-term aim, however, is to see Pride Housing expand and welcome more students in more residence halls on campus, and to be more accessible than ever.
“Right now it feels like someone who does want to have that gender-neutral experience needs to go through extra steps, whereas other people don’t have to worry about it,” JoeHahn said. “To simplify the process would be really great to see.”
Cunningham said he’d like to see more than one building that houses affinity groups.
“I think this is a good start, but putting all the affinity housing in one building puts it at a risk as well. Inclusivity shouldn’t end at Alma Clark,” he said.
JoeHahn is happy with the community Pride Housing has built, and they see it as a building block toward Western’s inclusivity goals, but not yet a final solution.
“We can continuously build upon this,” they said. “We have a long way to go, we’ve done a great job so far but there’s obviously room to grow forever, so let’s keep working on it and I’m excited to see where we go next.”