The Rivera House Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Living Learning Community opened its doors to new and returning SUNY New Paltz students for the Fall 2015 semester. Housed in Lenape Hall, Rivera House is open by application to any students identifying as LGBTQIA+ or allies of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
The Office of Residence Life’s website described the Living Learning Community as an opportunity to network with individuals working on anti-racist, feminist and queer projects both on campus and in the local community.
Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor Jessica Pabón spearheaded Rivera House’s inception and implementation. Appointed the official program director, Pabón worked to coordinate a schedule for the program, find LGBTQIA+ guest speakers to give lectures for Rivera House members and recruit upperclassmen as Peer Mentors for incoming first-years in the program.
Pabón works alongside other members of the Rivera House Steering Committee, including Professor Andrea Gatske from the history department, Tess Chapman from the Kingston Community Center and two upperclassmen involved in the program.
Pabón said that the community didn’t have a formal opening ceremony or gathering on move-in day to avoid outing any LGBTQIA+ students who might not be open about their sexualities or gender identities to their families. On Wednesday, Sept. 2, Rivera House had its first official group meeting, open only to members of the program.
Twenty-one students are part of the the housing program, including 18 first-years and transfer students and three upperclassmen. Pabón aims for this group to form a tight-knit community of allies and friends.
“Based on their [application] essays and narratives, they’re really coming into this community with a vast range of experiences,” Pabón said. “Whether it is because they’ve never really been out before or never been in a space where their sexuality or gender-deviant identity is welcomed and not oppressed, all of this is new.”
Pabón created a calendar of events for Rivera House’s inaugural semester. On Friday, Nov. 6, queer writer Sassafras Lowrey, author of the novel “Lost Boi,” will come to New Paltz to do a reading from her work. The reading will be open to the school; however, Rivera House students will be invited to an exclusive creative writing workshop with Lowrey. In addition, a reverend from the interfaith community in the Albany area will come to speak with the students about faith, spirituality and being LGBTQIA+ in October.
“This particular reverend is a trans-individual who couldn’t be officially ordained in their religion of choice because of their identity,” Pabón said. “Spirituality, not necessarily religion, is important. If you have [some degree of spirituality], you shouldn’t feel as though just because the church or temple you were raised in doesn’t recognize you, that there is no place in the spiritual world for you.”
Pabón hopes that the students involved will take the reigns during the Spring 2016 semester and create their own programs. Pabón was unable to secure enough upperclassmen to match each incoming first-year or transfer student with a peer mentor. However, if the program continues, she hopes that current members of Riviera House will return next fall and offer to mentor the next class of incoming students.
“The hope is that we get to keep the program, and that it grows,” Pabón said.