September 11, 2018

LAM | New LGBT Housing Community Needs to Unify and Add Value to Campus Life

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In a historic change of heart, Cornell has finally decided to open an LGBT living community on campus. Though details remain in the works, the “Loving House” will be a part of Mews Hall and opening to students in Fall 2019. This is a fantastic development for bettering campus life at Cornell and a historic win for LGBT students, considering the losses in the past. What I fear most, however, is that the Loving House will be segregated rather than included on campus, and stigmatized rather than understood much like the other program houses on North. In the finishing touches of this project, Vice President Ryan Lombardi ought to tread carefully and make sure that it is designed to promote Cornell’s unity and diversity as a campus.

While we want the house to be a place of security for its inhabitants, coordinators of Loving House should also make sure it adds value to the rest of campus. The community should not be an insular place, but rather a conduit to different students on campus. In addition to strong programs within the house, there should be discussions to connect with other groups like Cornell United Religious Works, multicultural groups, and Cornell Republicans, for example. Simple conversations with these organizations who may seem to be at odds with LGBT students will foster understanding and dispel implicit biases, and Loving House should actively promote them. These events of course can be voluntary, but program directors can nudge students with incentives, like a free meal that comes with having lunch with a non-LGBT student. All in all, Loving House shouldn’t just be a place to be yourself, but also a venue to learn and understand others.

Additionally, Loving House residents should be selected at random from a pool of interested students. First, administrative costs will go way down. Second, needless competition and implicit biases will be eradicated. Although already enrolled in one of most prestigious schools in the nation, Cornell students are constantly embattled in competition for anything from memberships in business clubs to West Campus rooms. LGBT students, I’m sure, are particularly sick of going through another round of judgement on something as personal as their sexuality. Worst — some may even feel pressure to not portray themselves in a genuine way, but rather lie in their applications to prove how “gay” they are. In order to provide foster development and maturity for its inhabitants, Loving House simply cannot be an echo chamber of RuPaul fans.

On the school side, the authors of these application questions and their subsequent reviewers (probably the same people) will most definitely implant implicit biases in their decisions. We’re human and they are in everyone. True randomness, by definition, rids selection from all biases. So, instead of typecasting on what being “LGBT” means, we ought to trust that students are applying to join with good intentions and leave it to true randomness.

Lastly, Loving House should be designed to act as a big tent and remodeling for LGBT student life. Like racoons in bushes, current LGBT student organizations like Haven and OUTreach remain cliquey and ineffectual, and therefore have scarcely any profile on the wider student population whatsoever. Meanwhile, Cornell’s own LGBT Resource Center, tucked away in a quaint little house on 626 Thurston Avenue, also has a limited presence on campus, and should leverage new visibility in Mews to promote itself. The establishment of Loving House should coincide the reestablishment of these LGBT groups.

At the end of the day, Cornell students are largely occupied by academics — during prelim season, their dorm is basically a bed to sleep in. However, the Loving House is another shot for Cornell to really think about how to create a living community for a group of students that need much support outside the classroom. The simple truth is that homophobia is still rampant in 2018. Gay teens are three times more likely to consider suicide than their straight peers and last month, a a 9-year old boy committed suicide due after being bullied for coming out.

High school is often hellish for many LGBT students despite changing attitudes in the media and corporate world. For those who have also managed to get into Cornell after all the nonsense they’ve been through, this school needs to welcome them with loving arms and provide meaningful support during their formative time here. Loving House presents itself as a tremendous opportunity and challenge for campus life administrators. They can either go with creating the same-old New Age program house that serves as a hackneyed diversity talking point for campus tour guides.  On the other hand, they can forge a substantial living community that promotes development and unity within its walls and out onto campus. Cornellians deserve the latter.

Matthew Lam is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Despatch Box runs every other Wednesday this semester. He can be reached at mlam@cornellsun.com