When resident assistant Sawyer Spackman heard at an October University of Montana conference about other schools that had LGBTQ floors in their residence halls, he pitched the idea to Residential Life Coordinator Andrew Lignelli. Could UNLV do something like that at South Complex?
Lignelli’s reaction was a quick no — there wasn’t much time to develop the idea and he figured the university would want to focus on the existing themed floors in the residence halls.
“Then I thought, ‘It doesn't hurt to ask.’” Lignelli said. “I know when I was in college, I would have loved to have had a Stonewall Suites.”
It turns out the idea was met with enthusiasm. Not only was the university interested in having an all-LGBTQ floor, but the process of creating it went so smooth, Lignelli and Spackman were able to get all the pieces in place within three weeks, and gain final approval from Housing & Residential Life for the project in six.
Expectations for Stonewall were modest. Lignelli hoped that maybe 10 students would be interested in the floor. That would have been in line with other thematic communities on campus — an all-women’s floor, a healthy living floor, and ones for members of the Honors College, College of Hotel Administration, and Business School.
The 35 slots filled up quickly, with students still adding themselves to a waiting list. And not just for the 2017-18 academic year, either. Lignelli spoke with a rising senior at a high school in Arizona who is transgender. Stonewall was the deciding factor for him to come to UNLV next year.
“It means the university cares about [LGBTQ students],” Lignelli said. “We claim rightfully we're the second-most diverse school in the nation, but what are we doing about that? We're not just daring, diverse, and different because we want to be. We're reaching out to students who are underrepresented, giving them opportunities to feel included in the on-campus environment.”
The population will be a mix of class years. Lignelli ensured that first-year students would have access to the floor while still accommodating returning students. Unique to Stonewall, both men and women will be assigned to suites. In traditional residence hall arrangements, all parties would have to present a formal agreement for gender-inclusive living.
All thematic floors include an educational component, so Stonewall, naturally, will focus on gender-inclusive issues and events. Starting with the name. Stonewall gets its name from the 1969 Stonewall riots following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, one of the few bars in New York that welcomed the gay community. The riots were a flashpoint in the fight for LGBTQ rights.
“I want people that live there to have a better experience than they would have living in a traditional suite on campus,” Spackman, a junior PGA golf management student said. “It's there to make people feel welcome. It would feel like you have a family. There are a lot of LGBT people that don't have a family, or are homeless, or aren't that connected. That's what I think there's a good opportunity here for.”
[UPDATE: Stonewall’s success inspired the opening of Howell Town, a themed residential housing floor that focuses on the history, prosperity, and enrichment of the African and Black Diaspora communities. It was named for the first African American landowner in Clark County, Nevada.]