USC Dornsife senior Kevin Steen is currently the resident assistant (RA) for the Rainbow Floor, but what he called the “fabulous lifestyle” of the LGBT community in L.A. intimidated him when he first arrived from the small town of Anacortes, Wash. So he found his home with the predominantly straight Trojan Knights, a spirit- and philanthropy-based fraternal organization.
“I came out to them when I joined, and they were very affirming,” Steen said. “I was the only gay kid for a while, which was fine. I saw myself as an ambassador from the queer community. Then over time, we began taking pledges who identified as LGBT in one way or another, and now it’s definitely part of the diversity within the Knights.”
In Fall 2011, he got involved with the LGBT Resource Center as a peer mentor and became the RA for the Rainbow Floor, a special interest residential community in Century Apartments dedicated to the LGBT community.
“I like being helpful; I like being available; I like facilitating conversation and getting to know people,” he said. “I tend to do that naturally, and I thought, how great would it be to be an RA and do what I like to do?”
Steen considers Residential Education’s Rainbow Floor — which collaborates with other Student Affairs departments, including the LGBT Resource Center — a safe space where people can be themselves.
“It’s probably the most diverse floor because being queer intersects every other identity out there,” said Steen, a linguistics and Middle East studies double major who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern languages and cultures. “It’s a really fun place for us to interact and learn more about each other’s identities.”
Steen has worked with LGBT Resource Center Director Vincent Vigil to create learning objectives for the floor, such as developing a local and global perspective on LGBT rights, heightening awareness of historical and contemporary LGBT movements, and supporting LGBT or ally identity.
To meet these objectives, Steen ran a faculty lecture series focusing on the history of LGBT civil rights in L.A., took his residents on a historic walking tour of some of the LGBT aspects of L.A. and will be starting a pen pal program with LGBT youth in Amman, Jordan, next semester. Steen studied in Amman last Spring.
“Kevin has taken the initiative to create some new programs for the floor, which is great and will probably be his legacy moving forward,” Vigil said. “This is a special interest community. You really have to be invested in the lives of these students. There are some real struggles Kevin sits and listens to. The fact that he’s always there as a great listener, as a mentor and as someone who can provide advice that assists the student is something that really makes him stand out.”
To Steen, the Rainbow Floor is proof of USC’s commitment to serving the LBGT community and celebrating the university’s diversity. This year is the first time that USC has allowed gender-inclusive housing, which creates a transgender housing option. Participants live in rooms with students who identify with the same gender but share the apartment with students of all genders.
“Even though we really had to fight for that to be an option on the Rainbow Floor, the administration and student government did come through to support it,” Steen said. “I’m just so glad I go to a school where that kind of collaboration takes place.”