A unique LGBTQ housing option helps some OHIO students find safety and community 

Published: June 6, 2023 Author: Photos by Rich-Joseph Facun, Story by Brooke Preston

As Audrey Ansel prepared to arrive as a first-year Ohio University student in Fall 2022, she wondered where (and whether) she would find friends, and how she would fit in with her new surroundings. As an LGBTQ student venturing 500 miles from her North Carolina home, those concerns felt all the more pressing — especially at a moment when national discourse around LGBTQ rights and regulations from high school sports to public restrooms is inflamed and unsettled.  

“I knew that I wanted to feel safe and accepted wherever I ended up living, especially since I was moving here all the way from North Carolina,” she said. “College is stressful enough as a freshman.”  

Rather than opt for a more traditional residence hall living arrangement, Ansel decided to give OHIO’s LGBTQ Experiential Living Opportunity, or ELO, a try. OHIO’s ELOs (one of the relatively new Expanded Gender Inclusive housing options) are unique residential environments centered around a common set of values or ideals, and designed to foster growth and development through targeted programmatic and staff-supported efforts that provide students a space where they feel free to be themselves while giving and getting support from their peers. Only students who self-select into and agree to abide by the community rules live in an ELO – in other words, only students who explicitly request to be in a specific ELO are housed there. 

Learn more about Ohio University’s Hoover House at TKTK.

Audrey Ansel (she/her) is a communications studies major.

The LGBTQ ELO, located in Hoover House on OHIO’s South Green, is a place where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally, Queer (et al.) identifying students can feel safe and supported in their living environment regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation. (However, it’s important to note that this is only one housing option: Many LGBTQ students at OHIO opt for traditional residence halls or other ELOs, such as the Substance Free hall or academic discipline-concentrated living experiences, such as the Fine Arts ELO.  

Programming within the ELO immerses residents in LGBTQ issues and LGBTQ community engagement, while also focusing on the interests of the residents, while the mod-style layout encourages a close and open community. 

That’s a big draw for students who may feel nervous about feeling accepted or welcomed for who they are. As fellow first-year LGBTQ ELO participant Ray Olin (who uses they/them pronouns) explained, “From the very beginning, people were spending time out in the mod. There is always something to do, someone to hang out with, someone to talk to, and a group of people waiting to support you. We have a lot of fun, hosting almost daily movie nights, bringing each other free food, accompanying each other to events and parties, playing games, etc. It is overall such an uplifting experience. I do not think I have ever had this many friends in my life, with so many people who are easy to talk to and connect with.” 

Learn more about Ohio University’s Hoover House at TKTK.

Ray Olin (they/them) is a wildlife and conservation biology major.

Like Olin, Gwen Feight (who uses she/her pronouns) chose the LGBTQ ELO in part because traditional women’s housing didn’t feel like a good fit. And like Olin, Hoover provided the welcoming community Feight sought.  

“Hoover is a great environment, and we do a lot of our own decorating to make the space reflect that,” said Feight. “I spend a lot of my free time hanging out with folks in the [ELO]; we watch a lot of movies and TV together.” 

Learn more about Ohio University’s Hoover House at TKTK.

Gwen Feight (she/her) is an urban planning and sustainability major.

First-year student Andy Colwell (who uses they/them pronouns) acknowledged that while interpersonal issues have occasionally arisen, the group and staff worked to solve them.  

“I love it in Hoover,” they said. “Newcomers are welcomed as one of the bunch. We share food, clothes, and other things if one of us needs something. While we have had a few problems with some people, it has been solved and we have grown stronger bonds because of it.” 

Learn more about Ohio University’s Hoover House at TKTK.

Andy Colwell (they/them/theirs) is an engineering major. 

Second-year student Ezra Taylor (who uses he/they pronouns) returned to the ELO for a second year, and agreed that the relatively new housing and experiential option continues to learn and build year over year.  

“My first year at Hoover was much different than my second,” he said. “This second year has been very nice! People talk, hang out in the mod and make friends. It’s been great for my mental health!” 

Learn more about Ohio University’s Hoover House at TKTK.

Ezra Taylor (he/they) is a wildlife biology major.

LGBTQ students are not a monolith, and not all opt for this housing option. Many LGBTQ students select traditional housing options or other ELOs, such as the Substance Free hall or academic discipline-concentrated living experiences such as the Fine Arts ELO. While some housing is gender-specific, all OHIO housing options welcome LGBTQ students. 

Now at the end of her first year at OHIO, Ansel said the experience helped her make a more gentle and successful entry into college life.  

“It has been very uplifting and encouraging to live in Hoover, surrounded by other LGBTQ students,” she said. “Hoover has given me the safety net I needed in order to fully embrace life at OU, and to fully embrace my identity…living in a community with others with similar experiences can be so helpful in the transition to college.”