Feelings of Community and Isolation
By Brooklin Painter
Note: The names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of our sources.
Living in student dorms at Walla Walla University can be quite difficult for many students. LGBTQ+ students, especially those who are non-binary and transgender, face an entirely unique set of challenges in the dorms.
To further discuss this topic, The Collegian spoke with Jordan Williams and Riley Brown about their experiences living in the dorms and the specific issues they have faced. Williams is a transgender non-binary individual who lived in the women’s residence hall before deciding to move off campus. Brown is a non-binary individual who is currently living in a residence hall.
Dorm placement may not be a big deal to most students. To transgender and non-binary students, it can be a major invalidation of their identity. The University places non-binary and transgender individuals in the dorm of the gender on their University documents, no matter what they currently identify as.
When being placed in a gendered environment that you don’t identify with, Williams said you are “putting extra energy to make sure your home is a safe place.” 
Williams and Browns’ roommates and hallmates tended to be accepting towards them because they were also non-binary. Yet, they still felt disconnected because of the amount of gendered wording others would often use in the dorms. Williams said that there tends to be a lot of “overly feminine language in the women’s dorms.”  They didn’t necessarily feel excluded because of it, but also not “intentionally included.” 
Even little things like having to make sure their name, not their deadname, was on the door can make them feel like they aren’t included. Constantly having to assert their identity to others can be exhausting and takes energy that shouldn’t have to be taken.
Still, there have been positive encounters at WWU. Willams stated that they feel respected when a resident assistant will stick up for them in RA meetings to make sure the transgender and non-binary students feel accepted. 
Brown said that they have had positive experiences in the dorms and that they feel accepted in the women’s residence.  LGBTQ+ students have often found ways to connect or create safe spaces amongst gendered areas in the dorms. Even though they had formed such connections, Brown felt that “a community is here, but isn’t representative of the full campus.” 
Brown spoke about how they would feel more accepted if “administration would let students talk more about LGBTQ+ issues within and under the University setting. Not just off campus or within their own friend group, but actually from a platform.” 
To create better inclusion in both gendered dorms, Williams feels that the dorms should officially set a floor apart for transgender and non-binary students. Another option would be to allow these students to choose what dorm they would feel most comfortable in. They want the administration to “make an actual assertion about what to do with trans[gender] students.”  Williams feels that the administration tends to sideline the LGBTQ+ community, and doesn’t make decisions about what to do until the very last minute because they think it’s such a minimal issue. Williams says, “Trans[gender] students are already very much here.” 
For safety reasons, Williams decided to move off campus. Williams expressed, “I really wanted to have a space off-campus to not have to worry about anything.” They continued, “I feel a lot safer being off campus. Am I specifically breaking any rules? No, but my existence is already toeing the line, so it’s a lot more secure being a drive away.” 
Editor’s Note: Next week we’ll feature an interview with a dean to get their perspective on dorm policy.
1. Interview with Jordan Williams.
5. Interview with Riley Brown.
8. Interview with Jordan Williams.