Building off of years of undeniable dedication and grit, four students who helped found a creative inquiry (CI) and submitted a proposal to Clemson Housing and Dining for an LGBTQIA+ Living Learning Community (LLC) have just made history. More information about the students who have made the LLC a reality is available in The Tiger’s previous article on the subject. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, CUSG senators Tyler McDougald, Sophie Finnell, Cassidy Smith and Andrew Gaspirini were overjoyed to learn that the LGBTQIA+ LLC, named Lavender Hall, has been approved.
The LGBTQIA+ LLC was initially created with the hopes of having a more inclusive space for students at Clemson University who identify as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The university will hopefully benefit from the impact of having a physical, safe housing space like Lavender Hall on campus.
“You will see students from all over the spectrum of gender and sexuality find a given space to be comfortable, unafraid of coming to a predominantly conservative, traditional campus residential space,” McDougald said. “You have that comfort level that’s there, but you go past that and find this uplifting aspect that the community will provide…Now, starting in fall of 2021, LGBTQ+ students are going to come into Clemson with an explicitly queer residential space, and that’s just absolutely great for future Clemson Tigers.”
After doing extensive research and attending various meetings with Housing, the four students submitted a detailed proposal containing all relevant information surrounding the LLC to Clemson Housing and Dining in June 2020. The proposal included information on both the housing and academic side of the LLC. Once submitted, Assistant Director for Residential Learning Jana Jordan Miller reviewed the LLC proposal and decided whether or not to approve it. Four months later, McDougald received word that the LGBTQIA+ LLC was approved. Director of Residential Learning Suzanne Price also worked closely with the four students to help bring the idea of Lavender Hall to life.
“We are very excited to work with partners for this LLC,” Price said. “Our process takes about 12-18 months of intentional research, conversations and planning to launch a new LLC. We have been working with this group for a while and believe this LLC will be a tremendous asset to our residential LLC portfolio.”
Finnell, a junior psychology major, was one of the students who was vital to the success of the project. As a resident assistant, she understood how difficult it can be for LGBTQIA+ students to find a housing situation that’s right for them.
“I know that the roommate process is scary; finding a roommate is scary,” Finnell said. “And it’s even scarier when you have a marginalized identity that you know is not necessarily supported by everyone.”
Therefore, Finnell was tasked with reaching out to the LGBTQIA+ organizations on campus. The proposal and eventual LLC was intended to benefit the community, but the four students didn’t want to speak for them or make decisions based on what they assumed the LGBTQIA+ community needed. Part of Finnell’s research was a conference she organized for LGBTQIA+ organizations to come together and share their opinions, as mentioned in The Tiger’s last article.
The two other members of the group, Smith and Gasparini, also contributed greatly to making the LLC a reality. Smith was the lead writer of the CUSG resolution, where she worked to synthesize data and formally present the need for the LLC. She took data from similar programs at nationally-ranked universities to show the benefits students get from LGBTQIA+ LLCs.
Meanwhile, Gasparini managed the academic side of the project, creating the first-ever regularly offered queer studies course at Clemson. The course is a CI called "LGBTQ+ Learning Communities: Queering University Spaces" and allows students to study how universities utilize queer spaces.
McDougald and his team’s work finally came to fruition when he found out the proposal had been approved in a concise email from Miller on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The email simply said that Lavender hall had been approved to open in the fall of 2021 and asked how many students they expected to live there.
“How short the email was is almost funny because of how big the impact that email has on campus,” McDougald said.
McDougald was elated and soon after got the four students who headed the project on a four-way call to surprise them with the news. “We got to celebrate what is such a momentous moment for Clemson University and the LGBTQ community here.”
Now that most of the hard work has been done since the resolution is approved, it is time to, in the words of McDougald, “breathe life into Lavender Hall.” The team is currently in the process of creating a logo with Campus Banner + Design, building a webpage and preparing themselves for housing sign-up.
“The biggest part is just going to be letting people know what is coming, that this opportunity is now here at Clemson,” McDougald said.
Going forward, McDougald hopes the LLC will be transformative and empowering for queer students and will help them strengthen ties within the community. Further, McDougald hopes the LLC will lead towards the start of an LGBTQIA+ resource center.
“A lot of students really would’ve wanted to have this their freshman year,” McDougald said. “That was why I started the project, because I wish that this was something Clemson [had] when I was a freshman.”
McDougald also addressed the students who might not see the need for Lavender Hall, saying “regardless of your views, this is going to give a comfortable space for new Clemson Tigers coming into our university.” He believes the LLC will strengthen the Clemson family and build the community effectively.
McDougald called the entire process incredibly rewarding and worth the wait. He looks forward to seeing his, and many individuals’ dreams come to life in Fall 2021.
Aside from the approved LGBTQIA+ LLC, McDougald and his team also created a CI titled “WS 4900: LGBTQ+ Learning Communities: Queering University Spaces,” which is currently in its first semester with students. For more information on this CI, make sure to read a future article coming to thetigercu.com.