by Erin O’ Donnell
Tucked away on the third floor of the Student Center is a safe haven for those who wish to express their gender sexuality freely. But this space is becoming increasingly too small as the number of students seeking the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual (LGBT) Center increases.
“We’ve had meetings where we just can’t fit people in here anymore. A couple of our in-house group [meetings] will happen here, and they are so large that we just have to move them out into another room in the building,” said Crystal Nieves, university assistant of the LGBT Center. “Which is a great problem to have. But it also highlights a problem that we’re a center, but we don’t really have enough of a physical infrastructure to serve the needs of our community.”
The Student Center is roughly estimated at 80,000 square feet, while the LGBT Center is an estimated 165 square feet, according to Otis Mamed, director of CCSU Student Operations. This space, located on the third floor of the Student Center, started as a small lounge area for the students to gather in, but is now too small to fully complete its purpose as more and more students are actively seeking the services of the LGBT Center.
The LGBT Center is not the only group having issues with space.
“Well, overall, the entire student center is too small, so space is an issue for all concerned,” said Richard Bachoo, chief administrative officer, in an email exchange.
Since 2009, The LGBT Center is a community of student volunteer staff built around trust that provides support services and knowledge to the well-being of the students.
Among these growing services are gender-neutral bathrooms and the option of using a preferred name on student’s records.
“We have gone from 10 bathrooms in place to 19. And right now I have a goal to get us to 36 by next year,” said Nieves.
Nieves explained that these bathrooms are in all of the academic buildings but not in the residence halls yet because they would have to recreate the gender-neutral housing system.
Another service that the center helped create is the option for transsexual students to use a preferred name as student information.
“This option can help transgender and gender non-conforming students to navigate academic and campus life prior to, or without initiating a legal name change process,” read a passage in the center’s informational pamphlet. The preferred name will replace the student’s legal name on all university information regarding the student, including course rosters, banner advising transcripts, Blackboard, the CollegiateLink, the CCSU ID card and the CCSU email directory display name and email address.
Many students expressed concern to Nieves that they did not want to use Blackboard or go to class and have their names read out loud without being outed as a trans person.
“It takes students bringing those issues forward. Our students are brave enough to do that,” said Nieves.
An additional program started by the center is the Safe Zone initiative.
“The idea for the Safe Zone program is to make allies on campus into safe spaces. So if somebody’s got a Safe Zone sticker on their laptop and they’re sitting in the library, they have created a safe space for someone to approach them and discuss their issues,” said Nieves.
“It’s a way that we can extend the LGBT Center. ” said Nieves. “This safe space that has been created allows students to visually see an ally with the use of the sticker anywhere on campus if the students aren’t fully comfortable with going to the center. At least this provides a first point of contact,” Nieves added.
Nieves said the Center wants to focus not just on mainstream-based programming, but continue to provide that space for students facing all issues.
“There’s a lot of programs that we can do as we continue to become a more established center. Can we do queer and Muslim programming? Someday we’ll do that. That’s what we mean by serving the campus. It’s not just about mainstream programming; I want to make sure that we focus on what it’s like to be an African-American lesbian today in this country; what it’s like to be a Jewish queer person coming of age…it’s important,” said Nieves.
The center has inspired the formation of many other groups related to gender and sexuality.
An example of a growing group on campus is the Queer People of Color Caucus (QPOCC). This group is already planning their own event. This group is relatively new, and though it is now small, Nieves sees the strong need for these groups and the space to house them.
“[These groups] fulfill a need that has been totally unmet for a long time, which are these niche communities in the LGBT community that really haven’t felt they had a space,” said Nieves.
Recently, some of the Center’s students formed a queer socialist action group, which focuses on political education and political empowerment, called Queer and Trans Students Building Power (Q&T). Nieves explained that this newest group has a lot of students interested in it.
“Pride has evolved over time and become more social-based. A lot of students are itching to do more,” explained Nieves, adding that students are claiming and recreating political identity and what it means to be a queer student at CCSU.