Carson Hall may be best known around campus for its late-night pizza, immortal “Animal House” cameo and inexplicable odors. Yet recently it’s been known as one of the safest spots on campus for the University of Oregon’s LGBTQ community. Though the UO QTs group and its gigantic rainbow posters play a substantial part in bringing this to public attention, a far larger community exists just a few floors up, largely hidden from the public eye: the Gender Equity Hall, the UO’s only gender-inclusive housing option, which encompasses the entire fourth floor of Carson.
Students in the Gender Equity Hall can live with people of any gender and all bathrooms are gender-neutral. The environment of the Gender Equity Hall is ideal for transgender, genderqueer, intersex or otherwise non-cisgender students who might find rigidly gendered environments, such as public restrooms or typical dorm arrangements, restrictive or threatening.
A collaborative effort between University Housing and LGBT Education & Support Services, the Gender Equity Hall was first proposed in 2009 but had its launch postponed to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year due to initial lack of interest from students. The project got off to a shaky start, in part due to a policy that prevented students who had not been in the residence halls for at least a year from living there.
Yet once freshmen were able to move in the hall’s popularity skyrocketed and in 2011 it expanded from a single hall to the entire fourth floor of Carson. It houses approximately 84 students throughout the academic year.
Though the hall is open to all residents, its nature as a safe space requires that students play a part in maintaining this environment. As such, the hall has a strict policy against intolerance.
“As much as it would be good to provide education for the individual, we still have to make it a safe space,” said Hayden Fawcett, a UO freshman and resident of the Gender Equity Hall.
“It’s pretty much like any other hall,” said Gavin Gephart, Fawcett’s roommate. “If you’re gonna be disrespectful and be an issue to the cohesiveness of the hall, you’re gonna get kicked out.”
Though a few intolerant residents have been met with this fate, students who live in the Gender Equity Hall find it to be a safe and accepting environment.
“It’s nice to be in an environment that you know is going to be welcoming,” Gephart said. “You get kind of spoiled though. You’re constantly in this hall with all these accepting people and you get used to that and then you go out onto the main campus where it’s not quite the same thing.”
In addition to being a safe space, the Gender Equity Hall aims to provide a learning environment for those seeking to understand the constantly shifting issues within the LGBT community. Even its staff still finds itself learning from the residents of various sexual and gender identities who come in and out of the hall every year.
“I feel like I’ve grown as a person because of my interactions with the residents,” said Andrew Rogers, a resident assistant for the hall. “I learn more and more every day from interacting with them — I learn more about real life experiences beyond just what you might read in an article.”
Readers may be confused by some of the terms I use to describe various gender identities. Here are a few short definitions:
cisgender: identification with the gender one was assigned at birth (i.e. if an individual was assigned male at birth but identifies as female)
genderqueer: a term used to denote gender identities that do not fall into the male-female binary
intersex: exhibiting variations in sex characteristics such as chromosomes or genitals that do not allow one to be distinctly identified as male or female
transgender: non-identification with the gender one was assigned at birth