Nearly a quarter century after the University vetoed similar proposals made by LGBTQ+ activists of the day, President Martha E. Pollack endorsed the creation of a queer-inclusive program house in an email to Student Assembly president Jung Won Kim ’18.
Pollack’s email, sent to Kim on Friday, was in response to a S.A. resolution passed in November and submitted to the president in January. The resolution requested the University to establish a housing option to benefit “all queer individuals at Cornell.”
“The administration is supportive of creating a queer-inclusive housing option, [but] additional work is necessary to create a sustainable plan that can be implemented,” she wrote. “Vice President Lombardi will … formalize a small working group that will look more at this proposal.”
Lombardi confirmed to The Sun that he aims to establish the new program house by fall 2019.
“[The president] wants to get a very small working group that can move very quickly,” Lombardi said. “If we do want to get it ready for fall 2019, we want to make sure we are in a good place as we open up next year.”
Lombardi said that there is “no firm commitment” on the location of the program house as of now. However, Ian Wallace ’20, S.A. LGBTQ+ liaison at-large, said that Lombardi has “voiced approval” for using 112 Edgemoor, which is currently a student residence located near West Campus with space for 22 occupants.
“I have been in contact with VP Lombardi since last semester,” Wallace said. “He has voiced approval for it, though some renovations need to be made to 112 Edgemoor before it will be suitable for what we want it to become.”
Dubbed “The Loving House,” the LGBTQ+ living unit “should give students a place where they can express themselves without fear of bias,” Wallace added.
This is not the first time queer activists advocated for a LGBTQ+ housing unit. In December 1992 and March 1993, the S.A. passed two resolutions demanding the establishment of the “Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Living-Learning Unit.” Both resolutions were vetoed by Cornell’s then-president Frank H. T. Rhodes for fear of fragmenting the campus community.
“Will the creation of such a unit actually serve to dissolve barriers or to create them? Will it promote communication and understanding with the University at-large or impede them?” Rhodes wrote in a letter in January 1993 to Pankaj Talwar ’93, then S.A. president.
Joseph L. Barrios ’93, then-gay/lesbian/bisexual liaison at-large who drafted and submitted the two vetoed resolutions, said there was “fierce opposition” against the proposal from the student body at the time.
“[There was] quite a bit of opposition, [including] from … the Cornell Review and the college republicans,” Barrios told The Sun in a phone interview. “[Many arguments] were rounded on conservative arguments, [such as] why do we need special housing for special interest.”
In an issue of The Sun published on Mar. 11, 1993, Christopher Valdina ’94, then-contributing editor of The Cornell Review was quoted saying, “When people on the left start to make demands, they start to expand at an exponential rate … the Student Assembly will approve any [political correctness] thing.”
Austin McLaughlin ’18, Cornell Republicans president, has declined to comment. Olivia Corn ’19, former Cornell Republicans president, said she personally supports the decision of establishing an LGBTQ+ program house.
“I would disagree with the 1990s Cornell Republicans. I think the political times were different in 1990. People were less on board with gay marriage and LGBTQ+ rights,” Corn said. “If a specific subset of people feel they would benefit from program housing, I see no need to prevent them from getting this housing.”
Learning about the failed push for the living-learning unit galvanized Wallace to secure a safe space for queer students on campus.
“When I found the original proposal in the archives, I saw how much and how little has changed since the 1990s,” Wallace said. “Queer people still face a lot of discomfort in their living arrangements. I’ve experienced this firsthand.”
Wallace was also inspired to action by the announcement of the Housing Master Plan, a University initiative to expand North Campus housing.
“I have actually been working on this since spring 2017, though I initially imagined the house as a co-op,” Wallace said. “Then this fall I became aware of the Housing Master Plan which will add 2,000 beds to campus and I recognized this as once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise the issue back to the forefront.”
The program house may relocate to North Campus once the Housing Master Plan expands residential areas in North Campus if the program is successful, according to Wallace and Lavanya Aprameya ’19, president of Haven, one of the LGBTQ+ organizations on campus.
“This program house is like a test-run,” said Aprameya. “If people like it, we hope to get a floor in the sophomore village. We also had talks of having an LGBTQ co-op off campus.”
Barrios said that the news of The Loving House hit him “like a thunderbolt” and that he is “extremely proud of the students and the University” for turning the queer-inclusive house into reality.
He added that this program house, as a supporting mechanism for the LGBTQ+ community, is especially necessary in current times under the Trump administration.
“Now people feel empowered to openly abuse members of other communities, including the LGBTQ community,” Barrios said. “To hear that 25 years later, in the age of Trump, this has come full circle, to me it brings an incredible sense of closure.”
Reflecting on his participation in the LGBTQ+ activism a quarter of a century ago, Barrios says the efforts to address the biases and to raise awareness of the LGBTQ issues need to be continuous.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same. When it comes to bias, it’s all too easy to think things will get better by itself with time,” Barrios said.