Update: the Lavender Living-Learning Community (LLC), if unable to gain five new applications from incoming freshmen before May 1, will not open in the fall 2022 semester. The director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, Jaime Harker, has confirmed that in such a case, work will be done to ensure the LLC for the 2023-2024 school year.
The Lavender Living Learning Community (LLC) will debut during the fall 2022 semester. The LLC will serve as a safe place for Ole Miss’s queer students to interact and learn together. The purpose of a living learning community is to give students with shared interests a common living experience.
For Jaime Harker, the director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, the reasoning for the Lavender LLC comes down to visibility. According to Harker, data shows feeling alienated can be a factor in LGBTQ+ students dropping out of college. The Lavender LLC is an effort to provide an inclusive environment where students can thrive, especially in the South.
“This is not something that’s tragic. This is something that’s remarkable, and we need to connect (the students) with the folks who will let them know how special and remarkable they really are,” Harker said.
Sarah Piñón, the assistant director for cross cultural engagement and programming, expressed similar hope that the LLC will become a visible beacon for the queer community on campus.
“Even if they themselves don’t want to live there, maybe they know someone else who does and they can share it because people know it’s something that exists here at this university,” Piñón said.
The LLC will join a growing list of outlets designed to make LGBTQ+ students feel seen within the university community. These include Oxford Pride Week, Lavender Graduation and the Lavender Lounge.
According to Harker, the Lavender LLC can provide a built-in support network for students who may not benefit from the networks of sororities, fraternities or other organizations.
The Lavender LLC has been in the works for the past few years. After planning and proposals, the backend logistics are giving way to a concrete community. In the fall, students in the Lavender LLC will live in Campus Walk Apartments, a university-owned complex just off campus. There are plans to move the LLC to Residential Hall 2 in the fall of 2023.
Those who choose not to live in the Lavender LLC can still benefit from its programming. Students in the LLC will share a curriculum centered around learning about inclusion. Fall classes include Introduction to Gender Studies, The Freshman Year Experience with a special gender and sexuality section and Writing 101. Spring classes include Introduction to Queer Studies and LIBA 102: First-Year Seminar.
In the years to come, Harker and Piñón, along with the rest of the Lavender LLC team, plan to recruit in high schools. They plan to connect with local Gay-Straight Alliances in order to let students know about opportunities early in their college careers.
In the near future, there will be an LGBTQ+ coordinator to help facilitate the programming of the LLC. The position currently sits vacant. Piñón currently serves as the interim coordinator.
“(We are) creating a visible support network for folks to study and think about gender and sexual diversity, those who may identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum to find community in their first year instead of just stumbling on it if you get lucky,” Harker said.
Harker emphasized that this community is not just for students who identify within the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s for anyone who cares to understand and celebrate gender and sexual diversity and understand that makes us all better. It makes Mississippi a better place to be,” Harker said.
Harker feels the urge to create a space that reflects her own experience with the queer community in the South.
“When I moved here — when I got to know the queer community in Mississippi — I just fell in love with it. It’s just such a supportive, hilarious, resilient, creative space,” Harker said, “But you have to know how to enter it.”
The Lavender LLC is a visible way to enter that space. Harker and Piñón both expressed their hope that this will become a cemented Ole Miss organization in the years to come.
“I just ultimately hope it becomes really embedded into the fabric of campus and it’s something students don’t have to search too hard to find,” Piñón said.
Students interested in applying to the Lavender LLC can apply on the Sarah Isom Center website. The application includes a personal statement answering the question, “What would being a part of the Lavender LLC mean to you?”