Are Gay Dorms Really Necessary?

A new look at college life

The Iowa mascot shows its pride (courtesy of U of Iowa)

A few – a very few (as in 10) – students at the University of Iowa are asking the school to provide one designated floor for LGBT students in one of three on-campus dorms. And while the request really only involves a small cross-section of students at the Iowa City university, it begs the question about whether LGBT exclusivity in college is a good idea?

In Iowa, the GLBT Allied Union argues that many other campus affiliations have the opportunity to live and work together throughout campus, and that the same provision should be made for the gay organization. Even though that would require about five-times as many students to sign up at the school to even consider the proposal, the option is already being listed on fall 2012 housing applications. The school also already has an LGBT Resource Center.

Is a gay-only residential floor a good idea?

The appeal for LGBT students is obvious. The exclusivity of the floor would mean a tolerant living environment – not unlike the difference between visiting a gay bar and a mixed bar for those of us who are old enough to drink. But in this day and age, as more younger LGBT people are making inroads within mainstream society, isn’t it important to integrate into all aspects of society, whether it be at work, school and, yes, even in one’s college dorm?

Granted, not everyone feels the call to become an advocate. And not everyone may want to accept the “burden” of the future of gay rights on their shoulders when there’s homework to do, musicals to try out for and raging keggers to attend, but separating from the crowd does seem a little like going in reverse at a time when a lot more young gay folks seem to embrace a certain amount of sexual fluidity.

Of course, in a university setting, this sort of gay exclusivity may actually be perceived a lot differently than it would be in the real world, especially when you consider that at this school and at others around the country, students with similar interests often create homogenized living communities (hello, frats and sororities) and focus on highly specific academic focuses (like gay, women and minority studies). And with the ominous shadow that a situation like Tyler Clementi’s casts on college life (he was the gay Rutgers student who committed suicide after learning that his straight roommate was broadcasting his same-sex liaisons online), it’s no wonder many LGBT students may feel vulnerable.

We’ll likely see similar things happening at other colleges and universities that don’t already have LGBT-specific facilities. And as much as LGBT solidarity can be a truly great thing (like having a gay magazine in Philly, right?), we also hope that students start feeling even more comfortable about co-existing within places of higher learning. Because while college is an influential testing ground for the real world, not all of the rules apply. But we like to think that even though it’s far from perfect, that things are getting better.

What do you think? Would you request an LGBT-exclusive dorm?