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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harvard Students Call for more LGBTQ Funding

By Alice E. M. Underwood -

This fall, queer issues at Harvard have become an institutional priority. But following a series of College-organized open forums and the creation of the BGLTQ Working Group in October to review resources for the LGBT community, students have voiced concerns that more University resources need to be devoted to LGBT support.
The current Queer Resource Center—the only space on campus dedicated solely to LGBT issues—is closeted in the basement of Thayer and entirely run by students who work to maintain the cozy room decorated with various rainbows where people can meet, find movies and books, or stretch out on the couches between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
"The QRC is a universal place that’s not just for queer or queer-friendly people, but for everybody. But it differs from other lounge places in that it goes without saying that you can be open about your sexuality," says Felice S. Ford ’11, one of the QRC coordinators. "If you feel the need to hide elsewhere, you don’t have to here."
Yonatan J. Kogan ’12, another coordinator, says that for the students who work to ensure the continued availability of the QRC and the resources it provides, it can be difficult to negotiate the time spent running the QRC with other time commitments.
"It’s fantastic having a space where we can get together in the Yard, but the QRC isn’t everything it could be if it had funding, the support of full-time staff, and the full commitment of the University," he says. "Planning and resource acquisition and development shouldn’t all fall on students’ shoulders."
In addition to providing a welcoming and safe environment, the QRC offers safe sex supplies, candy, a meeting place for student groups after hours, a library full of advice books and LGBT literature, and a collection of DVDs. Three student coordinators and 11 volunteer staff members are responsible for the entire operation and maintenance of the QRC, which receives its funding from The Open Gate, a non-profit organization established by the LGBT alumni group, the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus.
QRC staffer Tevin L. Colbert ’14 says he was surprised to learn that the QRC receives no funding from the University, as many colleges have institutionally funded LGBT space and administrative support. Though he had expected Harvard to have more visible LGBT resources prior to coming, he says that he has been generally pleased with the atmosphere at the College.
"Harvard as a community has been really accepting—I feel almost like I could skip down the sidewalk waving a rainbow flag," he says, but adds that while he feels comfortable in the general environment of Harvard, locating specific information and resources can be a difficult task.
"My concern is for people who may need help and don’t know where to get it, for students who don’t know where to turn," he says. "You can find happiness and support, but you have to be willing to look for it."

Despite the dedication of the coordinators and staff, the fact that the QRC is entirely operated by students means that maintaining consistent personnel and institutional memory is a continuous struggle.
"If something is completely student-run you run the risk every year of losing the people who actually have the drive to keep it going," says Ford. "We’ve been lucky in the past, but that’s no indication of what’ll happen in the future."
Tom Bourdon, the current director of Tufts’ LGBT Center, emphasizes the importance of university support not only for LGBT space, but for full-time staff support as well. At Tufts, the LGBT Center was established in 1992, four years after the first staff coordinator to serve LGBT students was hired in 1988.
"Student groups often do great work, but if students are expected to fully and holistically take on all of those responsibilities, they are being asked to take on an overwhelming and impossible burden," he writes in an e-mail. He adds that official university support at Tufts enables not only physical space and staff, but can provide funding to allow for experts to be brought in and for students to attend conferences on LGBT issues.
Schools that have staffed LGBT centers, he writes, make a statement that "the university recognizes and respects the LGBT community, understands that there is professional-level work which needs to be done, and is proud to show their support."
According to Bourdon, there are currently about 150 institutions of higher education with professionally staffed LGBT centers. Many LGBT students and allies acutely feel the lack of this resource at Harvard.
"The space and organizations we have are great, but university support would be a very positive step in terms of highlighting Harvard’s commitment to diversity," says Jia Hui Lee ’12, a member of the Transgender Task Force who frequents the QRC, referring to the advantages other campus LBGT centers have.
"There’s a gap between the resources the QRC provides and the resources the College provides," he says, adding that because of this divide it can be difficult to find information about a range of LGBT issues.
As the director of LGBT Services at MIT, Abigail Francis staffs the Rainbow Lounge—the campus’ LGBT space—and works to ensure that everyone can access the resources they need.
"Students need to be students first and foremost," she says. "In terms of a comprehensive supportive approach to LGBT issues on campus, a staff member is really key to building community and cultivating leadership so students are empowered."
Joubert X. Glover, an MIT senior who is president of the MIT LGBT group G@MIT, says that the Rainbow Lounge has offered LGBT students a home away from home.
"I’m honored to say I go to MIT because of its ability to recognize diversity issues and help make sure we have spaces and resources," he says, adding that Francis helps students address difficult issues as they arise by being available to listen to concerns and offer advice and information. "Just looking at the suicides on high school and college campuses, it’s clear that there is a need for some sort of support, and I’m glad MIT sees the need for that."
Kogan says that while he enjoys having a space that gives students a sense of ownership as well as a place to hang out, the LGBT community is taking a stand to get more resources from Harvard.
"The QRC is a well utilized space, and that speaks to fact that this is something that there’s a demand for on campus," he says. "Still, there’s not that much visibility on campus which can be frustrating, and that’s something we’re trying to work on."
As part of this push for visibility, members of the Harvard LGBT community will be gathering on the Science Center lawn at noon today to demonstrate the need for more LGBT resources by cramming into an exact outline of the QRC. By overflowing the only space on campus specifically dedicated to LGBT issues, the event announcement states, "we want to convey the need for the improvement of Queer resources on campus."
Ford says that she hopes this action, as well as the outcome of the BGLTQ Working Group, will lead to better allocations for the LGBT community for future students.
"We can only do so much in our hours of 11 to five, and in the end, that’s not enough," she says. "As far as specific queer resources and support go, we are it."


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