Planning graduate is driven to tackle queer and transgender housing issues

By

David Rozul

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

It’s important to Beth Freelander that the future of planning is inclusive, and she plans to use her voice and education to ensure that it happens.  

“I always think it's important to include the voices of the people who would be impacted by a project and I would want to make sure that my idea actually suited the needs of low-income queer and transgender minorities,” Freelander said. “The best way to ensure it meets their needs is to include them in decision-making.” 

Freelander, a master's degree in urban and environmental planning May 2020 graduate, says she wants to make sure that those who have historically been left out of planning are heard, especially in affordable housing and homelessness issues. 

“As a queer person, I know that other people in my community deal with homelessness at a higher rate than most other populations, and I care deeply about my queer and trans siblings,” Freelander said. “I want to see them have the same things that I have, which is a stable house — something that I’ve always been very privileged to have all my life. It’s something that’s been close to my heart when I consider these issues.” 

Faculty members recognized her compassion, leadership and dedication to the field. 

“Beth is a great student, who is attentive in class and consistently produces really strong work. However, that’s not what stands out most about her: She’s extraordinarily thoughtful,” Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning said. “She thinks critically about whatever issue we’re discussing and considers how that maps on to her own experiences with planning.

“Beth has an ability to find the balance between leadership and support roles and I think that’s something that will serve her well in the field of planning.”

Ahead of commencement, we asked Freelander a few questions about her time at ASU:

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: One thing I was looking for was faculty that aligned with what I was interested in. At ASU a lot of the professors have an equity lens or are looking at grassroots-type planning, and that’s something that’s really important to me. It didn’t hurt that ASU offered me a generous funding package that also made it a good financial choice. Also, my wife really didn’t want to go anywhere with snow, so this fit the bill for that too. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: This idea in planning called “wicked problems.” I know that nothing is perfect and I’m not overly idealistic, but I was hopeful coming into this program that there would be things that were clear cut, like, "This is the right thing to do, this is the right fix for this problem." But this idea of wicked problems, problems that are just unsolvable, really changed my perspective from, "How do I fix this" to "What are the tradeoffs that I need to consider and what is really important to do even if it means sacrificing in some other idea?"

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Meagan Ehlenz has really taught me to know my worth and recognize my potential. She’s done this because her teaching style is just so rooted in her belief that her students are capable and can accomplish whatever is set in front of them if they are given the right tools and guidance. She really invites us to join in the assumption that we are all capable and we’re valuable to the team. That’s helped me stretch myself and to see myself in a new light. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I have a couple of pieces of advice. First off, it’s — you get out what you put in. I think of this (graduate school) as an investment I’m making in myself. Like any investment, what you get out of it is dependent on how much you put in. So, choose the things you want to do and work hard at them. 

I also would say don’t be afraid to ask for help because the professors I have had have always been very willing to help me, and always have genuinely wanted to see me succeed. I would imagine that they feel that way about any of their students. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus? 

A: The Coor computing lab and the tables outside of Coor.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m hoping to get hired on at the Maricopa Association of Governments where I’m interning presently, but I don’t know yet, so hopefully that pans out. 

Q: What is your dream job? 

A: I think I’m still figuring out what my dream job is. Initially, I really felt like it was in a city local government working on the issues I’ve talked about, like working on affordable housing, homelessness and bringing the public into planning, especially those that have historically been left out of planning. But at this point, I am remaining open to figuring that out as I go.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would want to invest that into some sort of affordable housing, like long-term affordable housing options for queer and trans people, specifically those of color or immigrants who face some really heavy discrimination and barriers to jobs and housing. I think that is especially pertinent to me in the midst of COVID-19. One, I know that there are many people who are struggling with housing to begin with, and two, I know that there are many queer and trans people that are staying in homes that are not a healthy or affirming space for them, so just being able to use that money to provide some other options for those folks would be great.