Living in a Feminist Dorm: The Value of a Feminist Safe-Space in College
My college was founded in 1834 as a women's college, but became co-ed in 1988. Today, the male to female ratio is nearly 50/50. My freshman year, I lived in a male/female dorm. While I have no problem with all-gendered housing, I was intrigued when I found out there was an all-female dorm on campus. However, what drew my interest was not the fact that it was all-female (though I realize that maintaining male/female bathrooms and dorms only solidifies the gender binary). The dorm, called Emerson House, is our campus' feminist perspective house. As a feminist and student of women and gender studies, I eagerly applied to live in the house for the my second semester freshman year (there are about 25 women who live in the house each semester). When I was admitted into the house, I found not only a new home, but a new support network of strong, like-minded feminists. Many of the house members are women and gender studies majors, but the house is diverse in terms of the member's knowledge and familiarity with feminist theory and rhetoric. As a result, we are constantly learning from one another, and growing in our feminist awareness together. Our common room has become a place where I can always expect to have fulfilling conversations about gender, and where countless stories about shared experiences have been told. Not surprisingly, our house is very closely affiliated with the school's feminist association, and many of our house events are done in partnership with the association. Last week, our house attended a vigil for victims and survivors of domestic violence, which has been the topic of the month at the feminist association as they seek to raise awareness on the issue. Emerson also houses a supply of two thousand condoms supplied very generously by Planned Parenthood, which we are very excited about to say the least (we plan to distribute the condoms to the campus throughout the semester).
Often times when women identify outwardly as a feminist, they face judgement or even hostility, and unfortunately I have found this to be true even on my very liberal campus. Indeed, last week the house was lucky enough to meet and talk to the founder of the house, who became disliked by students and even faculty for establishing such a "radical" feminist space. And with the tragic legacy of sexual assault and aggression on nearly all college campuses, navigating as someone who identifies as a woman can be intimidating, particularly in a dorm environment. I am lucky to say that Emerson has served as a safe-space for me to live as a feminist and as a woman who wishes to have her voice heard, and as someone who is interested in hearing about other people's experiences as women and/or feminists. This isn't to say feminists and feminist women on college campuses cannot safely live and voice their opinions without feminist or all-female housing. However, I do feel that college campuses would greatly benefit from a similar model to that of Emerson house. My college has other safe-space housing for members of the LGBTQ community, foreign-exchanges students, black students, and so on (and we do not have a Greek system), and this aspect of my college community is perhaps one of my most treasured. I think it is particularly important for college women to be able to live with a community of people who can provide support, and who are also interested in creating awareness about issues regarding gender on college campuses and beyond. I am so grateful to have such a space to call home for the next two and a half years of my college experience.