An LGBTQ+ living learning community will house its first residents next fall

Students show pride at the annual Miami Beach Pride along with University of Miami Mascot Sebastian. Miami Beach, 2019.
Students show pride at the annual Miami Beach Pride in 2019 along with University of Miami Mascot Sebastian. Photo credit: LGBTQ+ Student Center

Beginning in thee 2021-2022 academic year, the University of Miami announced there will be a new living learning community, or LLC, on campus for members of the LGBTQ+ community and allied students.

Vanessa Kania, assistant director of the LGBTQ+ Student Center, works alongside students to brainstorm different ways where UM can be a community where people of all gender and orientations are valued and respected. She shared the idea behind creating this LLC.

“A lot of times, first-year and transfer students have a difficult time getting access to gender-inclusive housing. So this LLC will be inclusive of those students, and obviously, it will also help to develop LGBTQ+ student awareness, academic and leadership skills.” Kania said. “An LLC for the LGBTQ+ on campus means a safe space for students. A space where students know they are respected for all their identities such as their gender identity and their sexual orientation.”

The Gender and Sexuality Studies Living Learning Community (GSS LLC) is in collaboration with the LGBTQ+ Student Center, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and Housing and Residential Life. The concept is that the residents will be taking the same specialized gender and sexualities studies course as well as living together at Mahoney Residential College.

Although there have been critiques amongst students about the lack of involvement the university has with LGBTQ+ affairs, the LGBTQ+ center is only 5 years old itself. This project is projected to increase that involvement.

“There will be components of community service, events and programs students will be a part of, and the goal is really to create a positive change for our LGBTQ+ community on campus and in the Greater Miami-South Florida area.” Kania said.

Gisela Vega, the current director of the LGBTQ+ Student Center, recounted how long the collaborative project of creating this living learning community has actually been.

“I’m just starting my third year, and I’ve had this idea since I started the position,” Vega said. “We’ve spent tons of time doing research and making sure that we build the program the right way.”

“The research here was actually carried out with the help of our student assistants,” Vega explained. “We also asked students if they would be interested in an LLC both through the center and in several courses and programs on campus.”

According to HRL, the UM already includes a gender-inclusive option when students fill out the housing portal. This living learning community will differ in that it is designed to be more focused on fostering a larger community.

“For a long time, members have wanted a space like this to be themselves and exist around like-minded people without fear of hiding who they really are,” said SpectrUM President Nathaly Gonzalez, a junior and gay member of the LGBTQ+ community. “I hope this is something that can continue to provide a space and educational opportunities for students.”

Gisela Vega  (Far left) along with student members of the LGBTQ+ center in a tabling event dedicated to celebrating National Coming Out Day. Lakeside Patio, 2020. Many individuals use this day to come out to friends and family. It also celebrates queer identities and awareness for the continued fight for equal rights and acceptance.
Gisela Vega (far left) along with student members of the LGBTQ+ center in a tabling event dedicated to celebrating National Coming Out Day. Lakeside Patio, 2020. Many individuals use this day to come out to friends and family. It also celebrates queer identities and awareness for the continued fight for equal rights and acceptance. Photo credit: LGBTQ+ Student Center

Joe Recker, a junior majoring in biology and marine science and LGBTQ+ member, shared similar sentiments and said he is excited to see how this will benefit students academically.

“I think a lot of the times we’re so used to seeing people become a completely different person outside of the classroom than inside the classroom,” said Recker, the current president of oSTEM at UM, a national student chapter focused on empowering LGBTQ+ members who are out in the STEM community. “With the courses, students will be able to connect better on an individual scale. There’s also the benefit of being able to bounce knowledge off of each other with people with similar views and similar backgrounds.”

Both Gonzalez and Recker also mentioned that because a lot of people within the LGBTQ+ community have gone through different life experiences, they have a lot to share with each other.

“A lot of people within the LGBTQ+ community have gone through different life experiences and have a lot to share, which can then make experiences in the classroom more engaging,” Recker said.

Director of gender and sexuality studies at UM and professor Claire Oueslati-Porter echoed similar thoughts.

“The LLC will benefit students by providing them with a space to nurture the LGBTQ+ community while they engage in scholarship,” Oueslati-Porter said, “LLC students’ diverse backgrounds and experiences will make the LLC a vibrant learning and living space.”

The goal for the pilot semester of the GSS LLC is to have at least 20 to 25 students who sign up to be part of the program. The gender and sexuality required courses will be hosted right inside Mahoney Residential dorms, making it it convenient for students of the program to attend.

“It’s going to be an amazing program. There are many of these throughout the nation, and this is the first one that we’re going to have here at the U,” Vega said. “It will be a super exciting way to build your community, feel a sense of community, at the same time getting some good academic credit for it.”

For anyone looking to join the GSS LLC, the option will eventually be a part of the housing application. Those with questions can contact the LGBTQ+ center at lgbtq@miami.edu, or visit their office in the Whitten University Center. Learn more by visiting their YouTube channel and Instagram @umlgbtq for more updates.