Campus & Community

Trans & Non-Binary Living-Learning Communities at Simmons Offer Residential Support and Allyship on Campus

The cupola of the Main College Building on the Simmons campus with a Pride flag in the foreground

Women’s-centered institutions [like Simmons] have an opportunity to reshape what education and leadership looks like by being inclusive of the queer community.

In 2022, Simmons was ranked #11 in the nation for LGBTQ-friendly schools. The Trans & Non-Binary Living-Learning Communities (LLC) are for students who identify anywhere within the transgender and non-binary spectrum, as well as active allies. In partnership with the Multicultural Center, this LLC provides our Trans & Non-Binary residential students with an intentional and optional space to build community, share lived experiences and perspectives, and foster identity development. We spoke to students, staff, and Resident Advisors about how the LLC supports trans undergraduate students on campus.

Finding Community in the LLC

Apollo Correia ’24, a Social Work major and Theater and Music minor, came to Simmons after their public school experience in a conservative town. “In high school, we discussed the basics [of gender and sexuality], but I was hoping to have further conversations at Simmons, and I’ve been able to achieve that. There are a lot of progressive people at Simmons.”

In their last year at Simmons, Correia chose to live in the Trans & Non-Binary LLC in Dix Hall; there is also an LLC for first-year students located in Simmons Hall. Marquet Houston, Assistant Director for Residential Engagement, shared the impetus for creating this optional living space. “Our trans and non-binary students have a unique experience at a women’s-centered institution,” says Houston, “we want to create community within the residence halls in a way that’s intentional. We want these students to feel supported and feel seen.”

In his role, Houston supervises students and staff, plans programming and engagement for students on campus, and supports students in crisis. Houston notes that there are many ways that Simmons offers a safe haven: from offering communities of like-minded students to reside together in a dorm, to providing private bathrooms with locks. New and continuing students are given the option to choose a Living-Learning Community during the housing process, but aren’t [committed] until they choose their room. If they want to change rooms during the school year, they can self-select the space where they will feel the most comfortable.

“I think women’s-centered institutions [like Simmons] have an opportunity to reshape what education and leadership looks like by being inclusive of the queer community,” says Houston, noting that the focus on women should include women who are queer, nonbinary, and trans, regardless of where they are in their journey of transition.

“We had a conversation recently about whether we would allow a “women’s-only” floor on campus,” says Houston. “The answer was no, because it contradicts the message we are promoting when our students sign a Gender Inclusive Housing Statement. We take our commitment to gender inclusivity very seriously. Students at any part of their identity exploration need to feel safe, no matter where they live on campus.”

Resident Advisor Alexis Arruda ’24 appreciates that Simmons has expanded what they offer trans and non-Binary students. “With the two new living communities and informed community members, I feel a stronger sense of community as a genderfluid person and student,” says Arruda. “In my hall, it is supportive to know that I will not be questioned or criticized for my identity. In my experience, undergraduate professors have respected names and pronouns, which can be one of the biggest obstacles for Trans and Non-binary folks in the classroom.” Arruda notes that students can be connected to resources through the REEF Support Center and the Trans and Non-Binary Collective (TaNC) student organization. “Overall, Simmons is a very welcoming community and I am able to foster growth and community on campus, regardless of how I identify.”

Theo Hatfield ’25 is a Resident Advisor for the first-year Trans & Non-binary LLC. “The environment is entirely welcoming and supportive. It reflects what Residence Life tries to do for the trans community here. It’s a beautiful community.” For Hatfield, Simmons was instrumental in their transition journey. “Simmons prompted me to think about my identity,” says Hatfield, who saw college as a ‘fresh start’ and began using she/they pronouns at Orientation. “I hadn’t talked about gender identity before this, and didn’t engage in that during high school. Simmons is a big part of my journey in feeling comfortable coming out. It made me feel safe and welcome to continue [my studies] here.”

Hatfield cites his research advisor in the Department of Biology, Assistant Professor Seth Johnson, as a huge source of support when he decided to change his name and pronouns. “He really helped. I don’t see a ton of trans people in the STEM fields, but I knew I had support from students and faculty.” Hatfield is eager to collaborate with Biology and other departments, as well as TaNC and other student groups, to offer programming in the LLC, including an event that discusses returning home and navigating family relationships, held prior to Thanksgiving.

Get involved in LGBTQ Community

Correia is now President of the Alliance Club at Simmons, which holds regular meetings and special events, including an open mic night for the Day of Silence. All events are promoted via @simmonsalliance.

The queer community transcends the Simmons campus. “The best thing for me at Simmons was that I was able to find internships that introduced me to Boston’s queer community,” says Correia. After expressing interest in working with LGBTQ kids, Correia was guided by Aqueela Culbreath-Britt, Associate Professor of Practice and Director of On-ground BSW Practicum Education, to their first practicum with Boston GLASS, a youth services agency for queer kids of color in Jamaica Plain. Through facilitating events and meeting other local activists, they are now working with Executive Director Shaplaie Brooks and Legislative & Policy Manager Rayna Hill of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth. “We’re working with the state to review different legislation,” says Correia. “Right now we’re going over sex education to make sure it’s inclusive.”

Theo Hatfield also recommends Fenway Health for students in need of gender-affirming care. “Your identity is respected and taken into account,” reports Hatfield, noting that the organization takes responsibility for navigating billing a patient with a different legal name.

Advice for Friends and Allies

Support from friends and allies is also vital for a thriving community. For students eager to support their trans and non-binary peers, Kas Hunt ’23, who majored in Women's and Gender Studies with a minor in Africana Studies, offers sage advice: “Being an ally is a lot about listening, not just doing. Listen to your LGBTQ+ friends and peers, hear what things are on their mind or causing them stress and validate their experiences,” says Hunt, recalling their days as a student. “Sometimes I just wished I could vent about being misgendered or something similar and not have the response be a solution, but rather, ‘That sucks Kas, I'm really sorry that happened, you don't deserve that.’”

To offer the right kind of support, Kas suggests, “Asking people what they are looking for in a response rather than assuming is a great way to not just be an ally but be a friend. Saying things like, ‘Are you looking for advice, validation, or just an open ear?’ can go a long way in comforting someone.”

Correia encourages allies to show up and listen. “I see a lot of people posting ‘I Support You’ on social media, but real allyship means participating actively. Join our events, be our friends, be in our lives. Everyone is welcome to attend Alliance events!”

Hatfield also advises patience for trans students and allies. “It takes time to learn new dynamics,” Hatfield notes, especially for people who knew him long before his transition. “As long as you are listening and open-minded, it’s okay to make mistakes. Give yourself the grace for those mistakes and allow people to correct you.”

Advice for Prospective Students

For trans and non-binary students, the search for a welcoming college or university may seem fraught and discouraging. Hunt, who works as a college and career advisor for Boston Public Schools, has this advice: “The number one thing I say to my students who are thinking of applying to colleges is to reach out and see if they can talk to a current student, someone outside of admissions, and ask about what it's like to attend that particular institution. Students at affinity organizations can be a great place to start. This way you won’t get the answers that you can find on every institution's website.”

Marquet Houston echoes these sentiments. “Trust that this is a community that cares about you,” says Houston. “When you get here, get connected [to others] as quickly as possible. Even if you aren’t living on campus, get involved with LLCs and student organizations. Put yourself out there and build connections. That will bridge that gap of uncertainty that a lot of students feel when they come to college.”

Correia encourages students to find others like them and build community at Simmons and beyond. “At a gendered institution it's easy to feel like the odd one out,” notes Correia. “Having a group of people who can uplift you is so helpful for both combating isolation and improving your self esteem as you grow more comfortable in your identity. Take a second to think about how Simmons’ environment may impact you. It might not be for everyone, but with the experiences that I've been able to have, I'd say that Simmons has definitely helped shape the person I am today.”

Hatfield also speaks to the Simmons experience. “I know that, historically, it’s a women’s college, but don’t let that deter you — it is gender inclusive. When I came to Simmons, I felt welcomed — that was a big feeling for me. I wasn’t planning on coming out as trans, but know that if you do change your identity you will still be a part of this community. I felt [safe doing] that at Simmons.”

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Alisa M. Libby