GRRRL House: Gender Relations For Real Revolutionary Living

When walking past 2333 North Racine Avenue on the tail end of DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus on a mundane April afternoon, it’s hard to imagine that the current office space for the Department of Religious Studies was ever the first home for a radical feminist themed living community that flourished at DePaul from 2000 to 2004. GRRRL House - Gender Relations for Real Revolutionary Living - was an all-inclusive, queer-friendly, anti-sexist, radical intersectional feminist safe space community where students of sophomore standing or higher - along with a possible cat or two - spearheaded social justice programs and collaborated with various student organizations to enrich the community and make DePaul feel like home. At 5pm on April 26th, 2018, the DePaul Women’s Center opened the archives of GRRRL House, and so I was introduced to the infectious humor and vivacious recollections of four GRRRL House Alumni - Sherita Evans, Oli Rodriguez, Rebecca Steinmetz, and Rebecca Facey.                       

 

Sherita Evans

Studied Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies

Resident of GRRRL House for 3 Years

Oli Rodriguez

Studied Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Photography

Resident of GRRRL House for 2 and a half years

Rebecca Steinmetz

Studied Women’s and Gender Studies (affectionately called a  “pure gold star WGS major”)

Resident of GRRRL House for 2 years

Rebecca Facey

Studied Women’s and Gender Studies

Resident of GRRRL House for 3 years

 

How did GRRRL House start?

The Unofficial Story: A fizzling romance between two high school softball sweethearts; the pitcher and the catcher.

The Official Story:

OR: So, theme housing just started,

RS: and this was the first year it was going to be in place, and I think I was looking at housing options because I was randomly posted with someone freshman year and she was living somewhere else, and I was like well, I wonder what else is possible? And GRRL House somehow came up.

OR: So we proposed it as a safe space for queer folk, gay folk, gender non conforming folks, and really wanted it as a safe space that was inclusive with class and race.

RS: As inclusive as we could have it on DePaul’s campus because everyone was supposed to be the same gender...technically.  

OR: I lived in Sanctuary (as a freshman)  and that was rough. You walk in, and it’s like toxic masculinity everywhere. So I was really kind of fearful…

In terms of how GRRRL House formally started, was there any opposition amongst the student body or administration? How difficult was it to be accepted?

OR: Oh, they were very interested. It was also the year that DePaul was voted “one of the happiest campuses” and there really was this undercurrent and subtext of everyone is queer and happy. So I think that this was an  initiative for folks coming together as a community, creating a community, and living within it.

SE: And also, at the the time, Res Life Administration was REALLY gay.

RS: So, there really wasn’t any opposition to us starting.

OR: No. I think after a while, it became a stain of opposition (in the eyes of administration).

SE: Adding the third R…and how the school responded to that.

RS: So between our first year it was GRRL House, G - R - R - L, Gender Relations for Real Living, and then our third year, we decided to make it 3 R’s, G- R- R -L, Gender Relations for Real Revolutionary Living, similar to Riot grrrl.

OR: And they (DePaul Administration) said “No third “r”. No revolution. We’re actually not interested in you being a revolutionary space; we’re not renewing it.”

SE: The would renew us as G-R-R-L, for the second year. The third year, they realized (we) were really talking about revolution. They did renew us; they offered us where the softball team lived, but they wanted us to all live in these separate apartments in one building. They wanted to seperate us.

How many people lived in GRRRL House?

OR: So, there were 7 of us officially, and then the next year there was 13. There were some extras, here and there. Half of us wanted to stay on that third year, but we didn’t want to live separately.

In traditional resident halls that the student body is familiar with today, we swipe in, there’s a front desk, professional security, RAs on duty, the works. How was GRRRL House designed in terms of security and guest sign in? Like, everyone had a key to the front door and just kept a “come and go” type of unwritten golden rule?

Note: at this time, the GRRRL House alumni roared with laughter. Exit, pursued by a (giggling) bear.

Everyone: DID WE HAVE A KEY TO THE FRONT DOOR?

OR: OUR DOOR WAS NEVER LOCKED!

RF: I have no recollection of keys or not having keys.  

SE: No, our door was never locked. We were a safe space on campus; that was part of GRRRL House. There was no security. I was the front door person. My room was right by the front door, so whenever that door was locked, I was the one who opened it. I opened it maybe 3 times? We had members of the DePaul community come who knew what GRRRL House was, and we took them in. You were always welcomed, whenever you walked in.

What was programming like?

OR: We did programming 3 times a quarter, so 9 times a year. It was part of the requirements for being a themed housing student organization.

RS: And even when we left campus, we still stayed a student organization so we still did programing regularly.

Highlights from the Round Table Discussion:

A handful of the plethora of student organizations that collaborated with GRRRL House:

Activist Student Union, Pride, Take Back the Night, WGS Department, Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority, Survive, Mile Walkers, Gospel Choir, Students for Justice in Palestine, ETC (Educational Theatre Company).   

In regards to the effectiveness and need for safe spaces:

At a time when “safe spaces” are now being habitually challenged and mocked, what does it mean when (people) are saying that “safe spaces aren’t valid”? That marginalized communities do not deserve to feel safe and secure? It’s where people feel comfortable and have friends, allies, and solidarity around DePaul and Chicago. Safe spaces respect complexity and allow time for growth. They are powerful healing environments.

Where did the theme house brownstones go?

Some have been torn down over the years, but many remain as department office space.

Co-ed in the nation’s largest Catholic University?

Technically, co-ed housing was not permitted on the LPC; however, the entire gender spectrum was respected and represented. Once GRRRL House moved off-campus, this conundrum was alleviated. Embracing the most revolutionary and progressive take on gender was of the most importance, always.

Faculty members who helped GRRRL House flourish?

A plethora of faculty and staff were involved in GRRRL House’s success, such as Florette King, Professor Anne Russo, Professor Francesca Royster, and Professor Laila Farah.  

 

       

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