The frame of the University of Rhode Island’s new LGBTQ building is being constructed right on schedule this week for the center’s grand opening date of Feb. 13, 2015.
The new LGBTQ center is the first freestanding center in the United States dedicated entirely to LGBTQ rights and will also be home to Gender and Sexuality studies. The $2.1 million project, which broke ground in April 2014, is URI’s effort toward a more inclusive and LGBTQ friendly campus.
This year, URI was voted in the top 50 LGBTQ-friendly universities in the United States- a far leap from being included in Princeton Review’s Top 20 Least Friendly LGBTQ universities. “[It’s] phenomenal,” said LGBTQ Center Director Dr. Annie Russell. “I’ve been here two and a half years, and our staff has worked so hard to make this a better place and change policies and make better programs. It’s been our staff but it’s also been the entire campus community.”
According to Russell, having a freestanding center will affect the URI community in a number of ways. “I think it changes the game. First of all, having one of the newest buildings on campus makes a difference,” she said. Being at the gateway to campus also works in their favor, Russell said because the new center will be much easier to find than the current location. The LGBTQ center is currently located on the first floor of Adams Hall.
“It’s tucked away,” said Russell. The windows are mostly blocked by shrubs, and the hall itself is half underground. Russell said that with the new center being independent, it won’t be missed. “We’re here, we’re queer; it’s happening!,” she said.
As February draws near, plans are coming into place for the opening of the new center. In celebration of the grand opening on Feb. 13, a few special guests will be visiting campus.
“A poet, Kit Yan, is coming in and he is actually writing an original poem for the event,” Russell said. Â “He’s a really well known queer poet and he goes all over the country and all over the world, and he’s a really talented man, so we’re excited that he’s going to be here.” Later that night, a dinner event will be held in the center where activist Janet Mock will be speaking.
“She is nationally and world famous for her views for outspoken activism on trans issues,” Russell said. “She just released a book last year called “Redefining Realness”, so she’s been all over the place. She’s just a brilliant, brilliant woman and we were lucky that we’re able to get her here.”
Russell said that there are already events planned to take place in the new building. “For us, one of the exciting things is that we’ll get to have our lavender graduation ceremony in the new building,” she said. “We are ending the symposium, which is one of our big weeks, by opening the building. The lavender graduation will be the first time that we have one of our big events in the building.” Â Â Russell also said that next year the center’s Big Gay Picnic will be held in the new building for the first time.
Expanded space in the new LGBTQ center will mean more programs will be able to run. “I envision two things: a lot more large scale programming from us because we now have the space… definitely more from us as a team. But definitely more for the campus community, because two of the rooms in the building will be reservable rooms by the campus community. So we hope to house classes and meetings and workshops…”
When asked about changes, Dr. Russell said that they are constantly changing and updating services that they offer. There will also be change in the way they deliver their topics to students. Â “We are moving away from a weekly ‘set this day this time every week’ kind of meeting structure and more towards a topics approach.” Dr. Russell also said that the LGBTQ center is working with Gender and Women’s Studies department in order to create a gender and sexualities studies program.
The size of the new building is one of the main reasons that the LGBTQ center can become a more influential part of the URI community. The space of the current LGBTQ center is small: one hall in Adams Hall with a lounge for all of the staff to share. The new building will be 4,300 square feet of space, allowing the staff of the center to work more effectively. The new center, according to Russell, will have a multipurpose room that can seat between 50 and 70 people, a conference room for 20 to 25 people, as well as a lounge with a capacity for 10 to 20. In addition, Russell said, there will be an organization office for students and a private study room.
Current LGBTQ students will find plenty of places to spend time in the new center. Some of the center’s current furniture will stay, since so many of the students enjoy their comfort, said Russell. While Russell said there won’t be a kitchen in the new building, there will be a kitchenette which students can use. A unique feature in the new center will be the bathrooms. Â “There will be only gender neutral bathrooms in the center,” she said. “We have three gender neutral bathrooms and one of them has a shower installed.”
For students wishing to become involved in the LGBTQ community, Dr. Russell said that a range of opportunities exist for involvement with the center. Students are welcome to hang out and get to know people, invited to events or workshops, with the opportunity of becoming a full time staff member. The center also has a volunteer program that includes interns.
Russell urged students, staff and faculty to take advantage of all of the opportunities the new LGBTQ center will offer.
“This really is a once in a lifetime thing that’s about to happen to our campus, and I just can’t wait to see what that community building becomes,” said Russell.