Inclusive housing for LGBTQ+ students

Allison Kirk, Herald Contributor

At a Sexuality Advocacy for Everyone (SAFE) meeting in mid-February, Director of Residential Life and Housing, Tony Montefusco, spoke about the LGBTQ+ section of the roommate survey, which is a questionnaire that aims to identify and match student preferences in terms of housing. Montefusco specifically brought up the question on the survey that asks future RWU students if they are comfortable living with a person who identifies as LGBTQ+.

The LGBTQ+ section of the survey was added several years ago, not due to any specific incident, but rather in response to looking at the campus climate with regards to the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, and in the hopes of making students feel more accepted.

Montefusco explained that, although the institution must have a say in the situation, students are more than welcome to share feedback. Those working in residential life are always looking for ways to improve their processes to better serve the students.

This survey question raised a bit of controversy, with some agreeing that the question is justified and others arguing that it increases pressure on students who identify as LGBTQ+.

Following the conversation, Montefusco said, “There are people on this campus [who] don’t support [the LGBTQ+] lifestyle.”

The comments that future students leave in the roommate questionnaire are a reflection of how the students on campus feel towards LGBTQ+ individuals. Montefusco noted that, although inappropriate responses were given, they were minimal.

Montefusco added that there were situations in which comments that caused concern from those reading them were sometimes misinterpreted. He recounted one specific example during which a student expressed a desire to not be paired with an international student for a roommate. After digging deeper into the request, Montefusco discovered that the student’s roommate for the previous four years at prep school had been an international student, and the student in question simply was looking for some new experiences, to which Montefusco explained that everything is an educational experience.

“We don’t know who or what everyone is, [so] you should be open and accepting,” Montefusco said in regards to homophobia on campus, adding that students who are not willing to take that approach may want to consider transferring to a different institution. Students would not be kicked out of the university, but an educational process would take place.

Montefusco also emphasized the importance of respecting the opinions that others hold, even if you don’t hold the same opinions. The staff in residential life can address inappropriate behavior, but they must respect opposing views. 

“There’s no place for hatred, but there are places for differences. There are plenty of people on campus who don’t accept homosexuality, [and] we need to respect that,” Montefusco said.

The Coordinator for LGBTQ+ Programs, Gabby Porcaro, provides student support, working directly with queer and transgender students on campus. Porcaro serves as an educator and talks extensively on making environments more equitable for all students.

“I would love to think that human beings would love other human beings regardless of sexuality or gender identity, but that’s not always true,” Porcaro said. “Current students exist in homogeneous communities, meaning they only understand individuals similar to them – whether it be race, gender, or sexuality… a lot of students are stuck in their own narrative regarding gender and sexuality.”

Porcaro noted that she feels as though the question on the housing survey is necessary for the safety of LGBTQ+ students. Although discrimination is inevitable on campus, Porcaro is working hard — alongside many others — to tackle the issue.

Freshman Elsa Schloemer, the Student Senate representative for SAFE, said that overall discrimination and the roommate surveys are not the only focus for improving the university experience for LGBTQ+ students.

“What I think we need to have for freshmen on campus is gender inclusive housing… it would be better for all students on campus,” Schloemer said, adding that she is currently part of conversations surrounding the introduction of gender inclusive housing on campus.