End to College-Specific Special Interest Housing Fails to Accommodate Students

With almost 34,000 students and over 2,000 acres, UCSD’s size can make it difficult to establish close-knit communities. Our six-college system serves as a way to rectify this, uniting students into more manageable blocs via shared college-specific residences, events and even required coursework like Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Making of the Modern World or Thurgood Marshall College’s Dimensions of Culture. However, next year we have a few new housing programs that aim to go a step beyond the college system, reaching throughout the university to unite marginalized students and establish special-interest communities based around a shared identity or cause. While well-intentioned, replacing successful college-specific programs with all-campus alternatives has its downsides and may end up treading on exactly the kind of communities the institution seeks to create.

In Sixth College, the African Black Diaspora Living Learning Community dedicates space to some of UCSD’s black students and allies to live in a community that affirms and celebrates their identity. Raza Housing in ERC aims to create a similar space, in proximity to International House, for connection, learning and appreciation of Chicanx and Latinx experiences. In Muir College, an LGBTQIA+ program will house queer and ally participants, offering a variety of LGBT-oriented activities for its residents throughout the academic year.

In the past, ERC and sometimes other individual colleges offered an LGBT housing option that allowed residents to check a box indicating they sought placement with other LGBT or ally students. This small but pivotal aspect of the housing application made it convenient for ERC students to start the first and only college-specific LGBT club at UCSD, called Queers at ERC. For several years now, this club has held weekly social meetings for the college’s queer community and this year has now been emulated by a new club in Sixth College called Queer Sixers United.

Unfortunately, as a consequence of the new all-campus LGBT program in Muir, individual colleges like ERC will no longer offer the LGBT housing option, raising concerns as to the future of college-specific communities like the ones mentioned. The program unintentionally forces students to weigh the convenience of staying in their home college against the empowerment of living with peers who understand them. Communities that have already successfully formed in each college may drift apart as some members join the all-campus programs, while others try to hold the fort in its original form.

Our associate deans and other residential life staff deserve no blame in this and have fought for these new programs on our behalf with the best intentions and sympathy for student concerns. On the other hand, Housing, Dining and Hospitality administration higher up has forced them to compromise many of these ideas and seems like a fairer target for criticism. Bureaucracy from on high, where it has little, if any, contact with actual students, evidently considers it redundant to have both an all-campus and college-specific program for the same special-interest group, even though the two types can serve different functions.

For LGBT housing, for instance, the all-campus version can entail a more program-oriented experience for UCSD students who want an active, knowledgeable community, while the college-specific option — which should always remain available in each college — can simply function for those who feel safer or more welcome with roommates who share their struggles. The former can then require a more involved application, as it currently does, without preventing those who just want to live in a safer space in their home college from choosing the latter simply by checking a box.

It also makes little sense to maintain gender segregation for LGBTQIA+ housing, since that logic only applies to binary-gender heterosexual individuals. The fact that HDH continues to mandate heteronormative policies like this in ostensibly queer spaces exemplifies its out-of-touch mistrust of students. If HDH really wants more inclusion and empowerment in housing, it needs to listen to students and to ResLife as students’ proxy. It needs to consistently offer and publicize programs like gender-inclusive and LGBT housing in each college, alongside more involved campuswide programs, if they prove successful. As the new housing programs begin their trial runs next year, hopefully they prove to HDH that each college can handle more leeway with which to adapt its programs to student needs.