Home, Sweet Home: LGBTQIA+ Living Communities Improve Campus Life

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Binghamton University community members participate in a Progress Pride flag raising ceremony to kick off Pride Month in June 2023. (Photo courtesy of Binghamton University)

A year ago, Binghamton University on-campus housing included specialized residential living/learning communities for students studying a romance language, those interested in environmental or animal issues, and more.

Since the fall 2023 launch of a new LGBTQIA+ residential community, students and allies are also able to enjoy a supportive network and improved sense of belonging — all within their residence hall.

SHADES Vogue Ball showcases local drag queens and LGBTQIA+ students in a competition-based performance. (Photo courtesy of Binghamton University, SUNY)

“There are about 15 to 20 students that have been [in the living community] since the start of this semester,” says Eddie Stakelum, LGBTQ+ Living Community graduate assistant and a master’s degree student in student affairs administration.

“They’ve really gathered around each other and have had that sense of community for each other. They’ve really become a friend group.”

As of August 2023, more than 450 colleges and universities offer LGBTQIA+-inclusive housing, according to Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse, a group tracking these programs across higher education.

With the recent addition of the LGBTQ+ Living Community at Binghamton, as well as others like Lavender Lane at Lafayette College, these institutions have joined the ranks of schools with inclusive housing initiatives. These residence programs serve as a model for other colleges and universities interested in developing similar projects.

LGBTQIA+ Living Community
At Binghamton, the residential option is available in Newing College’s Delaware Hall. This academic year, it was exclusively open to incoming first-year undergraduates. Next year, returning students will be eligible as well.

In collaboration with the campus LGBTQ+ Center (Q Center), the living community hosts events, dinners, educational programming, and community-building activities such as creating and signing a list of community guidelines, bookshelf painting and tie-dye craft events, movie and game nights, and a resume event.

Overall, there is a strong connection between students who visit the Q Center and those who live in the residential community, furthering across-campus relationships, says Nick Martin, associate director of the Q Center.

LGBTQIA+ resource centers provide a safe space for students to feel accepted while advocating for policies and practices that contribute to their success, according to the 2021 study “Why LGBTQ+ Campus Resource Centers Are Essential” from Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. Inclusive living communities designated for these students further this support, where they reside.

The living community addresses a variety of fears and challenges that LGBTQIA+ students may face when entering college. For example, while some may come from a supportive family, others may be searching for a safe space due to a lack of acceptance at home.

“This community [addresses this] because they’re [around] people who have similar identities [and] past experiences,” says Stakelum.

In addition, students have a safe space for discovering and developing their own identities, says Martin.

“I’ve seen a lot of students come in considering themselves more of an ally than actually someone that’s in the [LGBTQIA+] community with a label, and then over the first year, they’re really able to better understand their identity. … So I think it gives students

The LGBTQ+ Living Community at Binghamton University is housed in Newing College’s Delaware Hall. (Photo courtesy of Binghamton University, SUNY)

flexibility to really figure out who they are,” they say.

Lavender Lane
Lafayette College’s LGBTQIA+ living group, Lavender Lane, is in its second year. Initiated by the student organization OUT, a campus club supporting LGBTQIA+ and gender-affirming causes, the living community houses 25 students in an on-campus residence, with one serving as a resident adviser.

Lavender Lane is open to those identifying as LGBQTIA+ or community allies who are sophomores or above. The living community also offers 24/7 access to all Lafayette students who apply for a key fob, which allows it to serve as a social center for the nearly 60 students who utilize this feature.

In addition, the home is self-governed, with an executive board that includes a president and vice president who select the housing roster, says Ken Burns, assistant director of residence life at Lafayette.

“We don’t want to have to place someone in the house that maybe isn’t going to care, or put the time and effort needed into what it means to live in Lavender Lane,” Burns says. “[The executive board does] a great job of having that self-governance and having their own autonomy to take the reins.”

The community promotes LGBTQIA+ awareness across campus and offers a safe space for students to discover who they are, and their interests and passions, he adds. Leaders also organize a variety of community events, like a special graduation and alumni dinner, craft nights, a drag show, flower planting, and workshops.

Overall, Burns says it isn’t a secret that student success is directly supported by their engagement on campus. For institutional leaders interested in creating a program of their own, he says it’s important to prioritize student voices.

Lavender Lane is a LGBTQIA+-centered living group house offered at Lafayette College. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)

“Listen to your students,” he says. “Obviously … we can only give students so much based on what we have to work with, but your students will tell you what it is that they want, what it is that they’re passionate about, and what it is they need to succeed.”