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The Deans’ Perspective on LGBTQ+ Dorm Policies and Culture

The Deans’ Perspective on LGBTQ+ Dorm Policies and Culture

An Interview with Deans Amanda Ponce and Katherine González  

By Josh Beaudoin 

In response to last week’s article on the experience of transgender and non-binary students in the dorm, The Collegian interviewed residence deans Amanda Ponce and Katherine González about dorm policy and the protections available for LGBTQ+ students in the dorm. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity. 

Kathrine González. Photo by Walla Walla University.

Q: How is life in the dorm different for transgender and non-binary students now compared to five years ago?  

Ponce: Over the last five years, it seems like there has been a significant increase in the number of students who have felt comfortable to be themselves and share their experience with the residence hall staff. And the deans are much more active in working with students to make sure LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable and safe within their living environments. To “give students a similar experience,” regardless of their dorm, deans now have responsibilities in each residence hall. This allows students to have options with who they go to with issues or questions. In the past, people in Foreman/Conard Halls only interacted with female deans, and likewise at Sittner, but now residents can interact with any of the deans. 

González: The team is more open to having conversations. Merging dorm responsibilities gives deans the same authority in all dorms, rather than women’s residence deans only having authority in Foreman and Conard Halls, and men’s residence deans in Sittner and Meske Halls. This allows us to have different perspectives and insights which hopefully will translate into one experience across the board regardless of where a student lives.  

Q: What protections are in place to prevent abuse against transgender and non-binary students in the dorms? 

Ponce: For any student who reports abuse, we will work with the individual to find a solution to their unique situation. The more information they can give about their situation, the easier and faster the process can move. Typically, I meet with them within a day or two to make a plan. If they have experienced abuse from a roommate, there would be immediate intervention. This is the same process that would be followed for anyone experiencing abuse, regardless of their gender identity.  

González: If necessary, a student can be taken out of the room on the spot, but situations of that severity only happen maybe one or two times per year.  

Q: What are some misunderstandings people might have about dorm policies about LGBTQ+ people? 

Ponce: A common misunderstanding is that the residence hall staff aren’t actively looking for ways in which the housing policy is discriminatory. We go through the policy line by line at least once a year, sometimes more, to change and modify language to make it more inclusive. 

González: That LGBTQ+ students can’t go to the deans for help or advice, and that they won’t be judged or penalized. They will be treated and heard like any other student. 

Q: What steps have the University and dorm staff taken in the recent past to ensure the dorms are more accommodating and welcoming to LGBTQ+ people?  

Ponce: We’ve been doing things like making pronouns the norm for communications and changing things like décor in the dorms that’s very gender specific or insensitive. The dorm usually has a social work intern. Last year they did things like evaluate the handbook for discriminatory language and policy, found ways to improve the mental health of minority groups, organized the Women’s Wellness Fair, worked with sharing resources with the government, trained the resident assistants, and following up with students who had a mental health crisis. College Place Mayor Norma Hernandez has been a great ally through this process and was at the Women’s Wellness Fair. 

Q: What would happen if a student, while already residing in the dorms, comes out as transgender? What options would be available to them? 

Ponce: They would need to meet with me and Dean Nickell, who would ask about what they want to happen—their ideal situation—and work one-on-one with them. There isn’t a formal policy in the student handbook, but there is precedent based on how we’ve acted in the past. With how unique each situation is, it would be hard to make a policy that covered all transgender and non-binary people.  

Q: If a transgender student comes to WWU and wishes to room in the dorm of their gender identity, are they allowed to? For example, let’s say, someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies and presents as female, wishes to stay in the women’s dorm. 

González: We’re working with administration to have these policies in place. We might try to find housing out of the dorms. But it depends if there’s a discriminatory aspect to it, if they have a support system in place. In the end, we would work to make the safest decision for the student on a case-by-case basis. 

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Q: How do students expect the deans to respond to situations involving LGBTQ+ people? 

Ponce: Students have the idea that the deans will respond in a way that holds Adventist beliefs above students’ wellbeing, however “our goal as deans is to provide them with a safe and respectful living environment and experience. Our job is them.” 

González: Students assume they’ll get in trouble for being gay, in a relationship, etc., but that’s not the case. Once students get to know us, that changes. 

Q: What kind of training are RAs and deans given on how to interact with transgender and non-binary students? 

Ponce and González: During RA training, RAs were encouraged to share their pronouns, although there’s no formal training. The change that’s happening is both organic and intentional by the deans. 

Q: What’s something you want the students to know? 

González: Please talk to the deans. “If there’s any doubt that you are loved and valued here, please erase that from your mind. Don’t be afraid to talk to us. You’re valued just as much as any other student in the residence halls.” If you see something that needs changing, talk to us. 

References 

Interview with Amanda Ponce and Katherine González, 11/5/2021.

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