This article is part of a three-part series detailing the experiences of students in identity-based living units on campus: The House of Black Culture (HBC), The Sexuality and Gender Equality House (SAGE), and Latin American Cultures and Student Anecdotes (LA CASA). Residents share the importance of these houses for their OWU experience and the campus community at large.
The Sexuality and Gender Equality House (SAGE) seeks to provide a haven for “people with marginalized identities” and be a “resource on promoting sexuality and gender equity on campus.” SAGE was founded in spring 2015 by members of the Women’s House. Today, SAGE is housed in the Dittrick House, one of the slu-plexes on Rowland Avenue.
Dmitri Ashakih ‘21 has been a resident for the past two years. As a transgender man and queer person, he placed a high priority on “living in a space where I feel like my identity is celebrated and embraced.” He was also drawn to the house for its mission to support the LGBT community and social justice movements on campus. Mack Wade ‘20 has been living in SAGE for two years. After struggling to make friends during her freshman year, she decided to attend the open house “on a whim” in hopes of meeting new people. “I really ended up loving those people and wanted to see myself in their shoes, doing what they do for the campus community as soon as possible, so I applied.”
“Queer spaces are incredibly important to the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ college students in particular, as we are in a very transformative period of our lives. Having one or more marginalized identities can make it incredibly difficult to find a true sense of belonging on campus,” Mack said.
Dmitri shared that “there are very few living spaces dedicated to the inclusivity of LGBT people in life.” He pointed out that a house like SAGE is crucial in giving queer students the ability to express themselves while feeling valued and seen by the university. “They are able to further explore the nuances of their identities without shame or fear of bodily harm.” Mack agreed. “Allowing queer people to create community, share experiences, safely grow together, and work towards positive change is one of the most essential things that can be provided to LGBTQ college students,” Mack added.
Living in a small living unit has been vastly different from living in a residential building, “because you are purposely immersing yourself within your passions and values and surrounding yourself with people who share those,” Mack said. Dmitri notes that the amenities of the residence, built in 2016, are an added advantage. “On a physical level, the housing is much nicer than when I lived in Thompson. I really love that I have a bathroom, a washer and dryer, a fully equipped kitchen, and a common area all at convenience.”
This homey environment translates into the daily lives of the residents, with Dmitri valuing the emotional component of “a small found family to spend time with and see every day, which makes SAGE feel like a home away from home.” His fondest memories of the house consist of members gathered around the table and crafting while sharing stories. “SAGE likes to do a lot of crafting, and we often paint, make Perler bead keychains, beaded bracelets, and necklaces.”
The sense of safety and support from being in a community of like-minded individuals helped both residents with self-acceptance. “Coming to terms with my identity has been the most valuable thing about living here. I credit my housemates and friends who I have gained here with allowing me to accept myself and truly come to terms with my sexual identity. I couldn’t have done it without the support of those who are doing the same thing,” Mack said.
Dmitri found similar support from his peers in accepting his identity as a transgender man. “As a transgender man who leans toward more traditionally feminine forms of expression like art, makeup, and fashion, I often struggle with what it means to be a ‘real man’.” Dmitri added that being “not naturally hypermasculine” has resulted in internalized transphobia and him questioning his own validity as a transgender man. “My housemates in SAGE have supported me through these struggles and advised me on how to be kinder to myself as I find out who I am. I will always be grateful for that.”
Living in the house provided the residents with new insights about themselves but also others.
“I’ve learned how to live with people who I may have never even encountered otherwise because of how different our lives can be and that has been a really beautiful thing. The different perspectives from my housemates encourage me to rethink my own all the time,” Mack said.
“I have learned so much about identities different from my own and about struggles that affect the LGBT community I had never considered before,” Dmitri agreed.
SAGE has provided a variety of events to the campus community, such as the Shimmer Party, Pride Fest, and Take Back the Night March. The latter is Mack’s favorite SAGE memory; an event highlighting the mission of ending sexual, romantic, and domestic violence. “That project was so important to the community. I felt so safe and understood, but also felt such deep pain as I listened to the accounts of sexual violence that my peers were sharing. I don’t think any event on campus can ever come close to the vulnerability and importance of Take Back the Night.”
Ohio Wesleyan could take more steps to improve in supporting SAGE, its mission, and its residents, particularly in the area of these events. “Events and programming originally led by LGBT people in the past have been taken and hosted by university organizations, like the Campus Programming Board, essentially erasing the hard work of LGBT students,” Dmitri stated.
Mack agreed, explaining that “SAGE works incredibly hard to create new, exciting and informative programming on campus. We often see our best programming being reused but without our cooperation. It really stinks to want to host a recurring event on campus but see that it has been taken on by a group that hasn’t reached out to us. It can just feel very unauthentic to witness LGBTQ programming take place without any LGBTQ groups on campus involved in the process.”