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March 17th, 2004 Mari Brookshire | News Stories
 

Queer Quarters

Lewis & Clark students push for "gender-blind" dorms.

     
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Ryan DeLaune says gay students shouldn't have to endure scolding lectures from intolerant roommates.
IMAGE: WYNDE DYER
When Ryan DeLaune's roommate moved out of his dorm at Lewis & Clark College, a 19-year-old female student moved in.

A Penthouse dream come true? More like a nightmare ended.

DeLaune is gay, which complicates his problem of revolving roommates at Lewis & Clark's Copeland Hall. Housing officials initially matched him up with a conservative Christian student who didn't take well to sharing space with a homosexual.

"He started preaching passages from the Bible and acted as if homosexuality were a choice," says DeLaune, a 19-year-old political-science major who grew up just outside Baton Rouge, La. It got so bad his roommate moved out a few months into the academic year, leaving DeLaune alone in a double room. Meanwhile, Erin Currie, a good friend of his, was experiencing roommate troubles of her own in a neighboring residence hall, so she decided to move in. Though the arrangement didn't have the official blessing of residence-hall officials, it was hardly a secret.

In fact, both students' parents knew. Currie, who is straight, explained that her roomie was gay. DeLaune hasn't yet come out of the closet at home, but since his best friends have always been female, he says his folks didn't freak out. In December, the co-ed housing ended when dorm officials found a new, more open-minded male roommate for DeLaune. But both DeLaune and Currie feel it was a success and, more important, that "gender-blind" housing should be available to all students living on campus.

Earlier this month, United Sexualities, the queer student group at Lewis & Clark, sponsored an open forum on the idea of expanding housing options for gay and lesbian students. (All Lewis & Clark students must live on the liberal-arts school's Southwest Portland campus during their freshman and sophomore years.)

A small but increasing number of U.S. colleges (many of them private East Coast schools, such as Swarthmore and Hampshire) have adopted gender-blind housing polices. At these schools, gay and transgender students can request to live with each other or with straight students who say they're comfortable living with such roommates. If that results in sharing a dorm with an opposite-sex roomie, so be it.

The tradition of assigning only same-sex roommates created few problems in an era when most gay students hid their sexual orientation, but it creates problems today when being queer in college is more accepted but not universally so.

Mike Eyester, housing director at the University of Oregon, is aware of the push for gender-blind housing elsewhere but hasn't heard much call for it in Eugene. "But that doesn't mean it isn't an issue," he adds.

Officials at Lewis & Clark, which prides itself on creating an environment where diversity is celebrated, are open to the idea of changing the school's traditional housing policy, though they doubt they'll be able to make any big changes by this fall, as United Sexualities has requested.

"Some students do have legitimate reasons to live in a gender-blind housing environment," says Lewis & Clark housing director Jon Eldridge. But, he cautions, "we want to be comfortable with this from all angles before we implement it."

 
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