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October 20, 2005 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-10-20

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Beyond ordinary roommate quarrels and bad food, LGBT students tackle the trials of the dorm experience
By Aymar Jean I Daily Staff Writer

hree years ago, then-
freshman Adam Lewis
was trapped. After a
night of drinking, his
roommate was hook-
ing up with a girl in
the next bed. And this
was in close quarters
- a double in Mary Markley Resi-
dence Hall.
Lewis tackled the situation with sar-
donic savoir-faire.
"It's cool. I'm gay," Lewis said to the
canoodling couple.
"They knew that I was there, but they proceeded to go
up to the bunk anyway," he later remembered, not bit-
terly, but nostalgically.
Up until that point, Lewis had not come out to his
roommate, who had nevertheless asked a bunch of Lew-
is's friends about it.
But Lewis, now an LSA junior, didn't want any ambiguity.
So, while his roommate drunkenly got busy with the girl,
Lewis started playing "really gay music" - he has a thing for
Australian pop phenom Kylie Minogue.
He did not stop there. He also put up some more gay deco-
rations, including a liquor advertisement featuring a rainbow
of different vodkas for "Absolut Pride." The next morning,
Lewis hoped, his roommate would see the changes and know
unequivocally about his sexuality.
"I guess I pulled a fast one," he said. "Or something."
In the end, Lewis's roommate had no problem with him
being gay. A popular high school student from Northville and
a big sports fan, the roommate took Lewis's orientation in

stride. Over the course of the year, Lewis said he was having
guys over a lot and his roommate never had a problem. Both
of them would bring hook-ups to the small Markley room and
go at it while the other was still present. "We became really
open about that kind of thing," Lewis said.
"He was a straight guy genuinely into women, who was
OK by me being gay and also having gay guys over, sleeping
with gay guys," Lewis said. Of the guys on his floor, "He was
probably the best one I could've ended up with."
Pinpointing the problem
any people at the University, from gay stu-
dents to University administrators, agree
that the environment for gays and lesbians
in the residence halls is not as bad as some
would assume. Severe conflicts between gay
and straight roommates are rare - if reports
to resident advisors and various univer-
sity departments are any indication - and noteworthy hate
crimes are not at all prevalent.
So far this year, anti-gay incidents and roommate
conflicts have not reached high numbers - in numerical
terms. Jackie Simpson, interim director of the Office of
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, said she
has been notified of about five roommate conflicts in all
the residence halls. She knows of only one hate-related
incident, where derogatory comments about "fags" were
written on a poster. (In that situation, the minority peer
advisor was notified and a workshop was held for people
in the hall.).
Mark Sampson, a psychologist at Counseling and Psycho-
logical Services, said he typically gets five or six gay students
coming to him expressing problems about housing, most of
them in fraternities.
The Office of Student Conflict and Resolution has not
had a gay incident reported in at least the past five years.
University Housing has not had to move someone out of
a room because -of any identity issue, whether because
of race or sexuality. Only in severe cases does that hap-
pen, said Greg Merritt, interim co-director for residence
But things are not always what they seem, and the picture
may be far from rosy. Gay issues in University Housing may
be hidden from the general public.
Most people in the residence halls are freshmen and sopho-
mores - a.time when many are coming out - and homopho-
bic incidents may go unreported. And still many more students
may be feeling a more indescribable discomfort - the kind that
doesn't warrant a visit to OSCR or even a resident advisor.

Resources for students:
Counseling and Psychological Services:
For general counseling call 734-764-8312 or visit the
Michigan Union.
CAPS: Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Men's
Discussion and Support Group
Contact Mark Sampson at marksamp@umichedu or call E-
Thursdays from 3:30 to 4:45.
LGBT Affairs: Coming Out Group
734-763-4186 or e-mail Igbta@umich.edu.
Office of Student Conflict and Resolution:
Call 734-936-6308 or visit the ground floor of South
Quadrangle Residence Hall.
"It's not representative of the people who are not out,"
Sampson said. "People can choose to be part of that invisible
"The key is that we would rather have zero (incidents).
But what these numbers mean we don't really know,"
Simpson added. Not knowing how many gay students
live in the residence halls makes the situation difficult
to gauge. With 10,000 students living in housing, there
could be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 gay and lesbian
residents, depending on which estimate you go by. Four
or five incidents may seem minor, but it's unknown how
many are unreported.
Student concerns

LSA junior who works as a resident advisor and an intern in
the LGBT office.
Working at orientation, Wright saw anxiety in their
sons and daughters. "When I talked to queer students
there, there's some kind of anxiety because they haven't
really met their roommates yet," he said.
Having been out since she was 11, LSA sophomore
Jaya Kalra had time to prepare for the move to college.
Kalra, who identifies as gender-queer, came out to her
roommate on the first day.
"I came in with the mindset that if there were going to be
any problems, if there was going to be an issueI wanted to get
it out in the open before it became a problem," she said. Her
roommate, who Kalra assumed had never even met a queer
person before, was fine with it.
When straights and gays approach Sampson with a problem,
it is usually an anxiety over a potential conflict, he said. For
straights, it becomes a question of "how they should act." Gay
students express concern over "what if there is a problem."
So last year, Kalra sought to address these issues by creat-
ing a group called "Queers in Residence." The group offers
informal support for gays in the residence halls, giving
them a place to hang out outside of the other, more activist-
focused groups on campus. Last semester the group met five
or six times, watching movies and enjoying a visit from the
LGBT office's speakers bureau.
Some students experience a general "fear of the
unknown" when in a very heterosexual environment,
Simpson said. Hate-related incidents like someone writ-
ing "fags go home" on a poster board, a white board or
a bathroom stall come from anonymous culprits. Then
there are the throwaway comments, like when students
use the word "fag" or "gay" in conversation. "The resi-
dence hall is your home, and it's supposed to be your safe
haven," she said.
Homophobic incidents do occur, of course, but they can be
relatively uneventful. Once, LSA alum Jim Suits's roommate
launched into a "lengthy diatribe" against same-sex unions,
because it would cause "social armageddon." Suits was not
out to his roommate at the time.
"Sometimes I wonder if the people who are so staunchly
antigay ever stop to think about what they're saying," Suits
said in an e-mail.
"Politics aside, we got along superbly. We watched the
same TV shows, went to bed around the same time, had the
same study habits."
First-year Medical student Andrea Knittel remembered
her freshman-year experience in the all-female Martha Cook
Building as generally pleasant. But "there were definitely
times that they were a lot of people who were very uncom-
fortable with me being out."

sophomore Jaya
Kaira, who started
the Queers
in Residence
Program, poses
outside Mosher-
Jordan Residence
Hall, where she
lived freshman
RIGHT: A view of
the library in the
Office of Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender
Affairs located
in the Michigan
Union. Students
can borrow any
materials from
the collection. In
addition to the
library, the office
also offers support
services and
discussion groups.


engthy interviews with several gay students suggest
that most gays experience potentially uncomfortable
situations. There are unpleasant "coming-out talks"
or relationships that become, at most, platonic.
"He just became like this other piece of furniture
in the room that I would not necessarily want to have
sex with," Lewis said in regards to his situation.

Students, particularly gay students, can also be anxious,
both before school and while they are here.
"I think there's always that anxiety. I mean, you don't how
your roommate's going to be in general. And if you're gay,
it's just another thing to think about," said Mike Wright, an

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