After all of the hard work students at the University of Cincinnati put in last spring has finally paid off. In late fall quarter, the students found out that they would be receiving an LGBTQ space, with the grand opening on Thursday, Jan. 15.
UC has a committee devoted entirely to promoting diversity, the Diversity Council, chaired by Mitch Livingston, chief diversity officer and vice-president of student affairs. This council is committed to diversity, aiming to bring faculty members of color to campus and servicing women and students of color, according to the council’s Web site.
Although a graduate assistant serves as the LGBTQ coordinator in the Women’s Center, this position is part-time and resides in a women’s space. Students working with the initiative requested a full-time staffer, as well as graduate assistant, for the Queer Center.
The Diversity Council last year accepted the recommendation for a queer center, full-time staffer and graduate assistant, but failed to fund it, citing that their current mission was to service students of color and this endeavor did not fit that criteria.
Many of the activists were outraged to hear that this was the council’s reasoning. To insist that an LGBTQ space on campus would not service people of color is outrageous; by using this reasoning, the Diversity Council is saying that there are no students of color that are queer.
In fact, by this logic, the Diversity Council is further isolating people of color by saying to them that they are only straight. Thus, students of color, that are also queer, fall by the wayside.
Proponents of this initiative for the Queer Center spoke of intersectionality. This ideal suggests that all identities are intersecting and form an interlocking web of oppression. So while a person may be queer, they may also be an ethnic and/or racial minority, disabled and/or a woman. All of these identities have a space on campus with a full-time staff person except queer.
It must also be noted, that while almost every person of color can find an office on campus to match up with their identity, until recently there was no office for students of color who are also LGBTQ because there was no definitively LGBTQ space. There still isn’t someone to staff it full-time.
Another major issue is that the LGBTQ coordinator is a part of the Women’s Center. The newly created LGBTQ Center is still a Women’s Center space. As mentioned above, LGBTQ is an intersecting identity that certainly does not only affect women; therefore, separating the LGBTQ Center from the Women’s Center is also a goal of the student initiative, as the graduate student that served as the LGBTQ coordinator has always had a cubicle in the Women’s Center.
Currently, the Queer Center is staffed by the LGBTQ coordinator, an additional Women’s Center staff member and student volunteers. The volunteers must have some crisis training prior to applying.
“I call it the closet,” explained one student* affiliated with the movement to obtain a full-time staffer for the queer center. “They’re trying to stick the queers in the closet, get it?”
This description is not inaccurate. The space given to the students was previously the Wellness Center’s closet, until they were asked to clean it out for the Queer Center opening.
The above student is not alone: “It’s small and makes me feel squished inside,” explained Lisa Summe, 21, English student at UC.
At the open house for the center, I had to climb over people to make it from one side of the center to the other. There were only about eight people inside at the time.
Nate Wessel, president of UC’s student group Out on Campus and urban planing student, was “really happy about it (the Queer Center grand opening). This is a great place to hang out between classes. There’s someone to talk to here and a great book selection.”
Jessica Price, 22, graduate assistant for the LGBTQ Center, said that she was really happy with the turnout. “There is a nice collection of students and faculty. This shows the interest and need for the space.”
“I am glad a lot of people are here. It’s really fun. The sandwiches are good and I met a lot of new people,” said Wessel.
The event had a huge turn out, with most people forced to eat the sandwiches and cookies in the hall rather than the Queer Center itself because it was so full; however, some students were still frustrated.
“I did a lot to make this happen and I don’t know most of the people here. Where did they come from?” asked one student.
Another student, who also asked to remain anonymous, commented that “This event is fine. I like the food and it is good that there’s people here. I think the LGBT office being open is better than nothing, but it is not ideal.”
When asked as to why the space was not ideal, the student explained that because “it’s tiny, it’s still controlled by the Women’s Center, and we don’t have a full-time staffer dedicated to the center, so this center can’t ever meet the needs of the UC queer community.”
*Most students asked to remain anonymous. Due to some animosity between the administration and the students, they did not want to be personally identified.