When first-year Melissa Pagela learned she would be living in De Neve Acacia’s new Gender, Sexuality and Society themed floor this year, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I asked a friend about their floor’s theme and they said, ‘X-Men.’ My floor sounded like a class, but I decided to stay because I knew I had a lot to learn,” said Magela.
While Pagela does not identity as queer, she has bonded over the past three weeks with a close-knit group of floormates who share similar interests despite their diverse backgrounds.
The new LGBTQIA floor is one of six themed communities on the Hill, scattered throughout buildings from Sproul Hall to Rieber Terrace. The floor was themed for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allied communities, as well as those interested in engaging with them. UCLA was the last University of California campus to offer housing for the LGBTQIA community upon the floor’s opening three weeks ago.
The floor has already become a safe space for residents and non-residents alike.
“This is a really welcoming community, we take in people that don’t even live here!” said Pagela.
“A lot of people who aren’t residents come by to hang out. Not many people knew about the floor because it’s only the first year they’ve had it.” Said Aaron Kinsfather, a first year Psychology major and the floor’s President.
When I visited during the floor’s weekly Monday meeting, I was offered Jolly Ranchers and greeted as part of the family.
Some students were unable to live on the floor because plazas are considerably more costly than halls. According to the Office of Residential Life, Acacia was chosen as the location for Gender, Sexuality and Society because administrators were unsure how much interest there would be among incoming freshmen.
However, according to Resident Assistant Chris Cabrera, 33 students signed up to live on the new themed floor, which he estimates to be twice as many as on other themed floors.
Cabrera, a fourth-year Political Science major, suggested that Acacia may have been chosen because the individual bathroom format of a plaza would be more sensitive to the needs of transgendered students.
“I had a lot of trans friends who had an awkward time first year with hall bathrooms, but it’s a double-edged sword. Plazas can be a very safe space, but they can also be prohibitively expensive.” Said Cabrera.
Cabrera has worked hard to plan a busy calendar of exciting and educational programs for floor residents. In addition to more traditional dorm outings like trips to the Santa Monica Pier and a building-wide visit to the Pantages Theater’s production of The Lion King, Acacia 3 will be watching Middlesex, a documentary about intersex individuals, and attending a presentation hosted by MetGlobe and Queers for Public Health on “safe and pleasurable sex practices for LGBTQ folk.”
In addition, Queer Alliance and the UCLA LGBT Center will sponsor a weekly mentorship program with residents to teach them networking skills and professionalism in the workplace. Cabrera also intends to host a panel of out queer and transgendered professionals in the entertainment industry, who will discuss how they cope with career challenges.
“I want to focus on postgraduate opportunities and the personal development of queer identities,” he said.
In only three weeks, the Gender, Sexuality and Society themed floor has become a safe space for Hill residents to meet like-minded students, contributing to their personal growth and education. This is especially profound when many first-year students remain unaware of the support systems that exist for them on-campus.
By engaging with their neighbors, residents have the opportunity to learn about the brilliant diversity of sexual and gender identities, a fact affirmed by the closeness of Acacia 3’s new community.
“When the year began some people weren’t fully comfortable with their [sexual or gender] identity, but we all seem to have a good sense of who each other is now,” said Kinsfather.
Mario Castañeda, a first-year Biology major, added: “We’re a really close floor. We eat together almost every day.”