The LGBT Resource Center will move from its closet-sized space on the third floor of Norris to an expanded home under the first-time direction of a full-time staffer, the Division of Student Affairs announced last week.
The changes come in response to a growing demand for expanded resources for the LGBT Center, which has lately found itself overbooked in the face of growing demands for LGBT resources by students, faculty, staff and alumni.
The location of the new space has yet to be confirmed, but administrators are widely discussing Seabury Theological Seminary on Sheridan’s west side as a destination. Seabury, which houses the Great Room, is a recently acquired property, and a number of campus offices are fighting for its newly available rooms.
Wherever it may be, the new space will ideally offer what Chris Garcia, Medill senior and co-supervisor of the LGBT Resource Center, sees as a “gay hub” on campus, with enough space to accommodate any size gatherings and large student group meetings. “Right now, that’s just not possible,” Garcia said. “[The current center] is not all that welcoming.”
The Resource Center runs from a cozy office on the third floor of Norris. It houses a few small pieces of furniture, a computer and a wide collection of LGBT books, magazines and movies. To be fair, by Norris’s standards, the office is bigger than most student spaces. But, for a center that serves a community it says constitutes one in 10 Northwestern students, a small office has been both physically and organizationally insufficient.
The center, which currently operates under the Norris Center for Student Involvement, will be reorganized to function under the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. The switch will provide students with opportunities to “learn from diverse communities, gain additional visibility and future space,” according to an e-mail announcement sent on behalf of Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for Student Affairs.
Telles-Irvin could not be reached in time for this article’s publication, but Natalie Furlett, Associate Director of CSI, said the VP of Student Affairs is personally dedicated to having a bigger and more sufficient space for the LGBT community. The details of the center’s new location are murky, Furlett said, but Telles-Irvin’s commitment to expanded resources is not.
Telles-Irvin, who comes from the University of Florida, one of few accredited universities with its own functioning LGBT Resource Center, visited Northwestern’s space this summer, according to Garcia, and understood pleas for a bigger center.
Furlett said the need for expanded space is a positive sign. “The LGBT Resource Center has been doing such an amazing job that they’ve created more work for themselves,” she said.
Dr. Doris Dirks, who advises the center part-time, will transition into the center’s full-time director. Dirks’s new full-time role will allow her to focus more energy on expanding the Resource Center, dedicating time to the Chicago campus, and offering more support for LGBT staff, faculty and alumni.
Of roughly 3,000 accredited universities across the country, around 175 operate LGBT Resource Centers with budgets as small as $1,000 to as large as $375,000. On the very high end is Georgetown, which received, in October 2011, a $1 million gift from former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to establish the Tagliabue Initiative for LGBT Life, overseen by Georgetown’s LGBTQ Resource Center.
Northwestern’s LGBT Resource Center operates under a comparably small $9,700 budget, but Dirks says her resources have grown substantially from five years ago, when she joined Northwestern’s staff. “There’s been a lot of work just getting to where we are,” she said.
Still, LGBT resources are typically not at the center of institutional priorities, Dirks said.
It is, however, a growing area Dirks hopes will expand with widespread help. “The Resource Center shouldn’t be the only source of support,” she said. “Everyone on campus should be doing more work towards diversity.”
The shake-up to Northwestern’s LGBT Center, “long overdue,” according to Garcia, comes after a long battle by a coalition of student groups calling for expanded resources for the typically underserved LGBT community. Telles-Irvin, therefore, was simply a receptive audience to a long running student campaign in response to exponentially increasing demands from LGBT students.
Dirks said the changes aren’t in response to a campaign on any one person’s part. “It’s really what this campus needs,” she said.