The Ruth Institute, the National Organization for Marriage’s “let’s influence the youngsters” branch, has released a video attacking a group of people who supposedly pose a growing threat to college kids: queer resident advisers (RAs). Jennifer Roback Morse, the Ruth Institute’s founder and president, speaks in the video about a “good Catholic girl” who was bullied by her gay RA for hesitating to participate in a drag party. Morse points to gay RAs as part of a conspiracy by the “other side” to influence young people. “There is no TV message that is going to do the job of countering that type of influence,” she says in the video. “Somebody’s got to be there, talking to the young people, one at a time.” She urges parents to find out if their children have gay RAs, even if they are in Christian colleges, because their kids might not even realize the impact it is having on them.
I would have loved to have a queer RA in college. Unfortunately, I felt pretty alienated from the residential life at my campus: during the two years I lived in the NYU dorms, I wasn’t aware of any queer programming or explicit support for queers on the hall. I met my queer community through working and volunteering everywhere besides my school. I was randomly assigned two lesbian roommates in a row (the first was my first girlfriend and the second became my BFF) but in terms of a structured queer support system, my experience was lacking. I’ve since been told that NYU res life is way more queer than I gave it credit for being, but if I didn’t know about it at the time, I doubt it’s having the pervasive influence that Morse is claiming.
After watching the Ruth Institute’s video, I decided to track down some queers with RA experience to find out their feelings; I knew there had to be stories of queer advisers who supported their residents, created positive change and made safe spaces for all of the kids on their hall. As it turns out, quite a few of you have been RAs!
According to Maddie, a former Student Fellow (that’s a fancy phrase for RA) from Vassar College, there’s actually not much of a difference between queer RAs and straight ones. While she was open about being queer and made sure her students knew about queer resources, Maddie worked to make her dorm “as safe a space as possible for everyone.” Being a queer Student Fellow did uniquely position her to provide much needed support to the queer student population, though: “When bathrooms in my dorm were defaced with homophobic and sexist graffiti,” she told me, “I helped organize dorm meetings to talk about it, and then a campus-wide teach-in/panel to talk about sexism on campus.”
“Queer RAs can be especially important as people who provide direct support,” Maddie continued, “because queer communities can be pretty intimidating for someone outside the scene. An RA can guide and be a confidante without becoming your best friend.”
Liz Washington, a former RA from a mid-sized public university in Georgia, told me that it hurt to watch the video from the Ruth Institute because “the majority of programming in the residence halls is heterosexist, or ignores that multiple sexualities exist.” She stated that being an out lesbian RA helped her become confident and assertive enough to be herself, since she had to serve as a mentor and an ally for other queers in the deep south. Her LGBTQ-related programming included activities like simply showing movies that featured a cast with diverse sexual identities followed by a discussion. Her main goal, though, was to make sure that “all students felt welcome and safe in their ‘home away from home.'”
Share your experiences in the comments about dorm life with or without queer RAs, so that we can drown out people like Morse who, as Maddie put it, are using stories told third-hand against the entire population of queer RAs. Whoever shouts the loudest, right?