The University of Connecticut has become the first flagship university to open an American Sign Language Community housing option for students who are “Deaf, Deafblind and hard-of-hearing,” according to The Daily Campus. The ASL housing option also includes children of Deaf adults, or CODAs, as well as hearing people who sign. The community will welcome anyone in the broader ASL movement regardless of their language usage as long as they “come with at least some base knowledge about Deaf culture,” according to UConn Today magazine.
Located on the sixth floor of Watson residence hall, the ASL housing option was pioneered by multiple generations of UConn faculty, alumni and current students after 30 years of advocacy by a retired professor. The Daily Campus Editorial Board congratulates the ASL Community housing’s 14 newest residents and UConn community members who worked for decades to make this opportunity possible for their peers.
It is refreshing to see that a bold vision from students and faculty was received by the administration and implemented into a concrete space for students in the ASL community — even if it took 30 years of concerted efforts. However, while this news appears to be a step forward for accessibility and inclusion at UConn, history serves as an integral reminder that accessibility requires ongoing commitment and work from the institution touting it.
This being the case, UConn and Residential Life must be consistently attentive to the needs of UConn’s newest residential learning community as well as existing communities of marginalized students such as Gender Inclusive Housing and ScHOLA²RS House. Furthermore, the administration must also be responsive to these needs at every level, not just by overworking Resident Assistants.
In September of last semester, The Daily Campus reported on grievances expressed by former residents of Gender Inclusive housing, also known as GI. Some GI residents strongly felt that the process for moving into the community from their old dorm was overly strenuous and too insufficient to accommodate students’ time-sensitive safety needs. Being a student of any marginalized background can make you subject to harassment and threats to personal safety, let alone the added pressure of social isolation when few people can relate to or respect your experiences. This may make the need to find an inclusive housing option urgent and effectively bar equitable access to the college experience. If UConn cannot accommodate these needs in a timely manner, then this requires more investment in housing services.
It is refreshing to see that a bold vision from students and faculty was received by the administration and implemented into a concrete space for students in the ASL communityThe Editorial Board
Additionally, a perennial issue with housing options like GI is advertising. Few campus tours stress the availability of this opportunity for students, limiting its exposure to LGBTQIA+ students considering attending UConn. Not only does lax advertising result in individuals choosing housing that does not fully suit their needs, but it gives Reslife the plausible deniability to claim that they “have not had the number of students requesting to live in…” specialty housing, as Reslife Executive Director Dr. Pamela Schipani claimed in an interview with The Daily Campus.]
From coverage of GI residents’ concerns, however, it is clear that students do have the ability to effectively network and advertise these alternative housing options. Black students at UConn have even organized a campaign to create SOUL house, or Sisters Orienting Unconditional Love, a learning community for Black women on campus. The roadblock is essentially that students alone do not have the ability or institutional backing to administer these programs. Just as the administration has done for the students rightfully demanding housing for the ASL community, they should support all of these student groups by taking their concerns for a safe, supportive space seriously and invest in them accordingly.
While UConn continues to expand its humongous police budget and invest millions in new athletic facilities they are in many ways sidelining students who are advocating for things that actually keep them safe: shared communities. We celebrate students and faculty’s success in launching a housing option that is inclusive of more UConn students; we also urge the university to not just confine ASL housing and other programs to the role of an advertising gimmick. Reslife needs to continually ensure that all residential UConn students can feel at home here.