By Jarod Todeschi
Just off of Brown Field on the Willamette University campus is Lee House, a residence traditionally reserved for women. One student, Sophomore Quinna Hadley might not have enrolled without Lee as a living choice, “it was really important for me in choosing a college that they had either a women’s dorm or female identified space on campus that would be available” citing it as “one of the solidifying factors” that led her to Salem.
Near the end of the 2016- 2017 school year, it was announced that Lee would also be available for male-identified students in alignment with its summer 2017 renovation. Hadley and her hallmates were left blindsided by the news at a hall meeting, “we were talking after that meeting and so many of us that lived in Lee really wanted to keep that space.” Hadley hit back, fighting through the forces of the housing office, proving victorious for Lee— at least for the time.
“Lee was able to remain all female identified for 201 7 – 2018 which is really cool, but then of course that led to the question of the future,” a question that was addressed in the preceding weeks.
Again, it was announced that Lee would open to male identified students in the 2018-2019 frame. This marked the second university attempt to hijack the long established tradition. Opposed to the runaround with housing they had experienced the year previous, Hadley, and fellow Lee resident sophomore Brielle Feinstein-Smith took their complaints to the top floor of Waller, arriving at the front of President Thorsett’s singular February office hour.
Feinstein-Smith elaborated on the meeting. “He asked what we were there to talk about and we told him about Lee.” They asked Thorsett if he was f a m i l i a r with the situation, “he said no, he had no idea . . . and we were kinda taken aback.” Hadley condensed, “that was basically the extent of our meeting with him it kind of just resulted in us bringing it to his attention.” Feinstein-Smith continued, “he told us to talk to Ed Whipple and that he would maybe contact him or something, we’re not sure if that happened.”
Nonetheless, Hadley made an effort to meet with Whipple, who was ultimately unavailable for a face-to-face. Instead, she met with Domanic Thomas, Senior Associate Dean of Students.
“He was really nice, he was very supportive and willing to listen,” Hadley said of her time with Thomas. He suggested they “play the game, play the system kind of,” Hadley detailed, “to maybe make it one of the interest communities on campus, it could be a ‘women’s studies house’ or something.” Thomas’ help was more along the lines of “administration isn’t going to see why this is necessary unless you prove it to us,” she summarized.
“It is not an interest or interest community, its non-negotiable,” Hadley said. Addressing the university’s housing policy adjustments, she said “if one individual can’t for some reason live in an environment with male identified people, you’re basically saying you cannot be apart of this campus community.”
Specifically, she referenced the housing lottery, where there was no institutional interest in individual preferences.
“A safe environment should not be a lottery it shouldn’t be this luck of the draw you should know that you can be in the environment you need no matter what.”
Hadley said she was informed that “they wanted to move towards more inclusive housing on campus, meaning just all gendered housing,” exposing a flaw in the university’s forced first-year commons, not allowing an exemption for female or non-binary individuals who might prefer a space like Lee.
“I know several freshman this year who it has not been a good environment for, one actually tried to transfer into Lee” but because of their first year status,“they were denied,” Hadley said.
Over the years, Willamette has not seriously considered Lee as a community, even though “it was one of the first buildings to fill up last year with over 20 people on the waitlist.”
The university has hinted that it would be unjust for a newly renovated space to be reserved for one group. To that, Hadley says, “we didn’t ask for the renovation we were happy with the old house.” Feinstein-Smith added, “we have no problem with there being an all-male dorm on campus.”
After two unstable years, Hadley knows the fight for Lee is not over. “I think we need to somehow solidify that there will always be an option for inclusive all female and non-binary housing on campus.” Noting the glitch in Willamette’s inclusive fantasy, she said, “there’s an important difference between what Willamette is designating as inclusive, and what the best for every student is and what students are demonstrating that they need.”