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Residential community views NIU ‘through an LGBTQ+ lens’

November 4, 2021

Feeling safe to be yourself is the foundation for dreaming about your best possible future.

At Northern Illinois University, Huskies can come home to a residential community on campus where they feel connected and respected right away.

Or, as Molly Holmes (she/hers) puts it: “You don’t have to search for your sense of place at NIU — it is already established for you, and you will really be valued here.”

Director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), Holmes also serves as advisor to the students who comprise a thriving community for LGBTQ+ Huskies and allies. Since 2018, the LGBTQA Community has been centrally located in Neptune Hall, with a waiting list making it a popular choice among new and returning Huskies alike.

“This has been my first year on the floor, and I have really enjoyed the community we have built together,” said Pizza Salinas (they/he), a junior transfer student majoring in rehabilitation and disability services with a minor in addiction counseling. “I feel comfortable being myself not just on the floor, but on campus as a whole because of the community and people I met when I first arrived.”

This residence hall community began in 2015 with just over a dozen students, as an ambitious project by a Huskie intern at the GSRC, and has blossomed to nearly four times over.

“We are proud of the fact that the vision of the floor was developed by students for students,” said Holmes. “Really, our goal is to look at current events and campus through an LGBTQ+ lens. And that means the floor gets to interact with peers and supportive faculty and staff, do things together as a group, and benefit from the added elements of intentional support and programming.”

Acceptance of each new student is approached with equity in mind. Huskies interviewed for a spot are not required to share how they identify. Restrooms on the floor are open-gender — with a private, lockable bathroom providing extra privacy. Gender is not the sole determination assigning roommates.

Maxwell Valle (they/he), a junior art and design education major who transferred to NIU in 2020, says such considerations “made me feel cared about and made it much easier to cope.”

“If I did not make the friends I did, I would have struggled so much more last school year,” said Valle.  “As a transgender student, I was worried about who my roommate would be … I did not know if they would be accepting of me. Once I saw this floor was an option, I knew I wanted to join.”

While the LGBTQA Community does not formally take classes together like some residential communities at NIU, Huskies have a home base within the GSRC where they can attend events, volunteer to educate their peers or simply study in a secure space. Holmes says the floor and center also keep close ties to the academic programs of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality. Related student organizations include Prism and the Women and Gender Advocacy Alliance (WGAA).

“Our inclusiveness provides for a more meaningful experience and alleviates any potential worry Huskies might have,” said Holmes. “They are not constantly having to think about their gender or their sexuality as an issue or a deficit. They can think about classes, and making friends, and what student organization they want to join.”

For junior history major Luis Herrera (he/they), the LGBTQA Community “was the best decision I have ever made,” and has been home since enrolling at NIU in 2019.

“It is my goal to leave NIU with a degree, feeling confident about my future and excited for the journey ahead. So far, it seems I will be achieving that goal,” said Herrera. “The floor directly influenced my NIU experience, and it remains the backbone for part of my social life. I have made several lifelong friends and become confident in myself and my personal outlook.”