UWEC Offers Gender- and Sexuality-Inclusive Community Housing

Rebecca Mennecke

Just like rainbows comprise numerous different colors, UW-Eau Claire’s “Rainbow Floor” in Karlgaard Towers Hall seeks to bring different gender and sexual identities together in a new inclusive living community.

“Living communities that bring together LGBTQ+ students aren’t exactly common in higher ed,” said Brandon Wegner, the support staff person on the floor and a UWEC social work student. “And we are happy to be offering this option.”

People who identify a part of the LGBTQ+ community or allies are welcome to the floor, with a 72-person capacity that was maxed out early on, according to Christoper Jorgenson, the director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at UW-Eau Claire.

“It’s definitely a full floor,” he said.

"...I've been blown away with the level of love, support, and understanding that I've found here." – Brandon Wegner, UWEC student

Among the students on the floor is Quinn Wilson, a first-year music education student, who stressed the importance of UWEC offering an inclusive space like the Rainbow Floor, which will pair students “without regard to assigned sex, gender identity or expression, or sexuality,” according to the UW-Eau Claire website.

“Being non-binary, I would have felt very uncomfortable and unsafe living on a gendered floor,” Wilson said. “Having this kind of space definitely makes me feel safer and more welcome on campus.”

The floor will have two RAs, as well as Wegner, who will offer additional mental, emotional, and academic support to students in the living community in a new, piloted position as a support staff person.

Wegner plans on having weekly check-ins with students on the floor, maintaining “office hours,” where students can come to chat, and offering referrals to other campus resources like the GSRC, counseling services, and the Dean of Students.

“Going to a LGBTQ+ affirming and accepting college campus was of the utmost importance to me,” Wegner said. “And I’ve been blown away with the level of love, support, and understanding that I’ve found here.”

This support for LGBTQ students has been nationally recognized, as BestColleges.com named UWEC the best school in Wisconsin for LGBTQ students for the second consecutive year, according to the UW-Eau Claire website. It ranked third in College Choice’s 2017 “50 Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students.”

“We are setting a standard for other universities to follow,” Wegner said.

In addition to the Rainbow Floor, the GSRC hosts events like their “drag ball extravaganza” – Fireball, queer film festival – freaQweek, their welcoming week event – the CookOUT, and more, according to the UWEC website. There are also other opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to get involved, such as campus social organizations like Pride or the student LGBTQ+ publication Out.

“The biggest thing that we seek to do is build community for students so that they feel connected and supported long after they’ve left the university,” said Kallie Friede, the Associate Student Services Coordinator at the GSRC.

Though UWEC’s friendly attitude toward the LGBTQ community drew Wilson to attend UWEC, Wilson is still concerned about whether the advertising of the Rainbow Floor matches up to reality.

“Most of my anxieties are probably the same as any incoming freshman,” Wilson said. “But, I do still worry about if the campus is as accepting as advertised.”

According to Jorgenson, it is. The GSRC has spent a lot of time and energy making the new Rainbow Floor a welcoming, fun, and engaging place to create community, Jorgenson said.

‘We want to make sure that we’re curating a living community that we’ve been advertising,” Jorgenson said. “So we’ve got lots of different resources, lots of support for students.”

The Rainbow Floor isn’t exclusively for freshman either. Folks can return to this living community as an upperclassman as well, according to Lex Matek, a former UWEC student who attended an early planning meeting for the floor.

He said students interested in getting involved with housing decisions like the Rainbow Floor should get involved with the Residence Hall Association, Student Senate, and the GSRC.

“Having this kind of space for young queer and trans people is so important because some may have come from very unaccepting homes or towns, and this may be the first place where they have felt accepted,” Wilson said. “Community is powerful, and I can’t wait for people to finally experience it.”