Last week, an email from SUNY New Paltz Coordinator of Housing Operations, Rafael Calderon, announced a new living learning community coming in the Fall 2015 semester — the Rivera House LGBTQA+ Living Learning Community. The program consists of 10 rooms with three-person suites in Lenape Hall. According to Calderon’s email, the new community was named after Puerto Rican and Venezuelan-American transgender activist Sylvia Rae Rivera, a well known activist for the rights of LGBTQA+ youth of color. Rivera House is open to any students who identify as LGBTQA+ or allies and have not moved off campus.
According to the Rivera House application, students who join the living learning community will work with activists on campus and in the New Paltz community to fight racism, sexism and homophobia. Additionally, students will be assigned peer mentors in an LGBTQA+ program and enter a welcoming network of students, faculty and community members who share their passion for social justice.
Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGS) Professor Jessica Pabón, the faculty advisor for the Rivera House, explained that the project was in the works before her arrival on campus during the Fall 2014 semester. Pabón, who has previous experience in student affairs and an interest in justice for marginalized groups, instantly volunteered to help with the program.
“I don’t know exactly where the idea originated from, but I remember it being thrown out at a committee meeting and me being like, ‘Oh, I want to do that,’” Pabón said.
According to Pabón, the plans for Rivera House students are still in the works. Students, she said, expressed their desire at a committee meeting to be part of the planning process, which she welcomed with open arms. Pabón hopes to have queer author Sassafras Lowrey, who wrote the critically-acclaimed anthology “Kicked Out,” which documents narratives from LGBTQA+ individuals, speak during the lecture series. Pabón is also currently working on developing an overall theme for the programs during Rivera House’s inaugural year.
“I want to focus on a healthy living theme in terms of surviving as an LGBTQA+ person,” Pabón said. “With all the statistics about suicide, depression and anxiety [among this group], and the pressures of college, I just feel like this is a good theme for the first year.”
Pabón also wants to pair incoming first-years up with upperclassmen in the program who “know the lay of the land,” she said. She hopes that students who are involved will suggest more ideas for guest speakers and relevant programs or activist projects.
“[This program] isn’t just about living, but also about the learning component,” Pabón said. “I want students to develop a campaign of some kind and work on that together.”
Additionally, Pabón expressed her hopes that Rivera House will transcend the university’s WGS program.
“[Even though] it’s coming out of WGS, I really hope that students in other majors or students who have not yet declared will be a part of it,” Pabón said with a smile. “It’s not just for [WGS] majors.”
There are only 30 beds available in the Rivera House LGBTQA+ Living Learning Community. Students can submit their applications to join the community to Pabón by April 12 via her email, firstname.lastname@example.org.