Grace Pearson Scholarship Hall

Grace Pearson is one of two coed scholarship halls at KU.

Scholarship hall residents at the University of Kansas are organizing a campaign to make the scholarship halls more inclusive. 

The movement started in Grace Pearson Scholarship Hall and was countered by vandalism and posters with anti-trans messages on them, said Meridia Bryant, a junior from Topeka studying ecology, evolution and organismal biology and a resident of the hall.

Grace Pearson, one of two coed scholarship halls at KU, experienced multiple incidents of vandalism of bathroom signs and LGBT supportive posters after the hall voted to make its communal bathrooms gender-inclusive, said Atlas Oberon Ruiz, the diversity and inclusion chair of the hall. A poster containing hateful comments was also placed on one of the bathroom’s doors. 

“Feeling unsafe in the place you live is the worst,” he said. “A lot of people leave their transphobic family and come here and have this safe space.”

At KU, there are six women’s halls and four men’s halls, according to KU Housing. Two coed halls have been added recently, said Aramis Watson, the associate director for residence life at KU Housing. The current classification of “men’s halls and women’s halls” still stands. 

“We continue to look at opportunities to better understand the needs, but currently, the terminology that is being used with the names and with the backgrounds of the halls is where they're at,” Watson said.

Living at a scholarship hall that’s marked as a “men’s hall” is awkward, said Payton Bilgere, a member of the movement. 

“I am a prominent member of my community, elevated by my peers, in a position that has never been held by someone like me before,” she said. “Pearson has never had a trans woman as a president, so I'm breaking a lot of untrodden ground.”

There is a lack of awareness about social issues in the scholarship halls, and the movement is trying to solve that, Ruiz said.

“People get scared because they don't know, and they don't try to know, about minority issues,” he said. “It's the same reason that, in a residence hall, an RA will put up a poster about trans rights or gay rights and it will get torn down.”

Inclusion among the scholarship hall communities is exceedingly important because they host students from diverse backgrounds, Ruiz said. K.K. Amini and Margaret Amini are the only halls that are ADA accessible, and both have higher housing rates than other scholarship halls.

“By virtue of 'Schol’ halls being housing that is accessible for people who come from a lower financial range, it makes it more likely for people of color and all kinds of minorities to be able to be here,” he said. “We already have non ADA accessible halls. If you are in a wheelchair, you may as well not live in [Grace Pearson] because you can’t get to the kitchen.”

Scholarship hall residents are pushing KU Housing to create gender-inclusive housing spaces, Bryant said. Students are trying to make some impact on the All Scholarship Hall Council front, too.

“Constitutional reviews are coming up next semester for the ASHC,” she said. “We're hoping to cause changes there of implementing an ASHC diversity and inclusion chair and implementing an assistant diversity and inclusion chair.”

The movement is also encouraging scholarship halls to make the language in their constitutions gender-inclusive, Bilgere said.

“More and more college students are living their truth as themselves, which includes gender-diverse students who either don't conform to a gender binary or seek to socially transition from their assigned gender at birth,” she said. “Recognizing that in writing means affirming the identities for everyone who lives in the scholarship halls.”

KU Housing supports more inclusivity in the scholarship halls, Watson said.

​“We definitely support them in having those conversations and want to make sure that the scholarship hall communities continue to be inclusive, including looking at language, but any changes to the constitution are student-driven,” she said.

Mary Morrison, Grace Pearson’s president, declined to be interviewed for this story.

The ASHC encourages scholarship halls to change the language in their constitutions, ASHC President Carson Sevart said. However, it is up to each hall to review its constitution and make that decision independently.

“All scholarship halls should change the pronouns in their constitutions by the end of the academic year,” he said.

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