Love and joy was in the air at the grand opening of the LGBTQ+ program house “Loving House” on Sept. 14 in the Mews Hall first floor lounge.
In attendance were residents of Loving House, Mews Hall residential staff and members of campus administration involved with housing and student life. Refreshments for attendees included a festive spread of fresh fruits, vegetables and different kinds of cake. Adorning the entrance to the lounge was a bright rainbow-colored balloon arch.
The original location of Loving House was supposed to be 112 Edgemoor Lane, a university-owned co-op on West Campus. However, those blueprints fell apart when the student-staffed development committee decided to establish the program house in Mews, citing several reasons for the switch.
First, the building at 112 Edgemoor Lane is inaccessible for those living with disabilities, said Ian Wallace ’20, former LGBTQ+ Liaison At-Large for Student Assembly. With inclusion central to Loving House’s mission, Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility was a requirement.
The location of Mews on North Campus also allowed for “a good mix” of class years and opportunities for “mentoring” from upperclassmen. “Edgemoor is also nowhere near first-year dorms and so the program house wouldn’t have been open to first-year students,” Wallace told The Sun.
Additionally, co-ops have their own unique selection process for prospective residents, which can sometimes exclude future residents based on their social connections. The student committee sought to forego the co-op for a “formalized process through the RHD of a program house,” said Wallace.
After the committee determined that 112 Edgemoor was not a viable option, Kristen Loparco, Director of Housing and Dining Contracts, offered Mews as a possibility, and it “just fit so many checkmarks,” said Wallace.
The same committee also determined the program house fee, which stands at $30 per year for residents and $15 per year for out-of-house members.
“We didn’t want to create divisions within the community in any way and we didn’t want the program fee to be a barrier, so it’s set lower than most other program houses,” said Wallace.
Most other program houses vary in fee costs, with most ranging from $40 to $100 each year. The Latino Living Center, which houses students with “a common interest” in Latino culture, history, and current events, costs $65 per year.
As The Sun previously reported, two resolutions that passed through S.A. for a queer-inclusive living-learning unit were vetoed in 1993 by then-president Frank H. T. Rhodes out of concerns for campus unity.
Jamie Sorrentino ’94, present at the grand opening, was one of the activists who signed the original proposal that was sent to the Student Assembly. Other signatories who Sorrentino said were much more “front and center” in the movement included Reverend Carla Roland Guzmán ’94 — a prominent figure in the LGBTQ community in Manhattan — and Joseph Barrios ’93.
While Sorrentino felt that “Cornell was an oasis where [he] could come out and be [himself],” he acknowledged that perhaps many others, especially trans students back then, likely did not feel the same level of comfort.
“I’m hoping they will have a better and more supportive experience at Cornell,” Sorrentino said of current LGBTQ+ students and Loving House members.
For the 2019-20 academic year, Loving House received 85 applications for a 30-bed space, but worked to accommodate as many interested students as possible. After students went through a housing selection process with many different living options, “in the end there was no one left on the waiting list,” said Taylor Bouraad, the residential head director of Mews.
Future plans for expansion will be determined “as student interest continues to grow,” said Robert King, director of residential life.
Other administrators present included Julie Paige, the keynote speaker and director of off-campus and cooperative living, vice president for student and campus life Ryan Lombardi and assistant vice president Pat Wynn. Speeches at the start of the event touched on the creation and development of Loving House.
Recently returned from the funeral of Gregory Eells, the former head of Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services Department who passed away last Monday, Lombardi and Wynn emphasized the role of Loving House as a space for support and love, as well as a “barrier against the negative forces out there,” according to Wallace.
“It’s a bit of a bittersweet day,” said Sorrentino, now a Clinical Social Worker at CAPS who worked under Eells.
“But this feels like a victory of sorts,” Sorrentino added, referring to the establishment of the program house. “It’s certainly not the end of the story.”
Students may consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.