By Rachel Clarke
and Stephanie Horvath
A group of UNC students working to organize a new resource center for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders on campus met Tuesday night to discuss the needs of the LGBT community and to begin planning efforts.
"We wanted to get an understanding for why people were here, whether there was a need, whether the University supported it and how to go about it," said sophomore Fred Hashagen, a philosophy and journalism major who helped lead the meeting.
Attendees discussed the need for an LGBT center and outlined the needs they wanted the center to meet.
"UNC has a history of preferring the gay and lesbian students remain invisible," said Dean Blackburn, the coordinator of substance abuse programs for the Center for Healthy Student Behaviors. "A resource center will provide the visibility and education necessary to make UNC a welcoming community for all students."
At the meeting, graduate students Chantelle Borne and Christopher Strauss and undergraduates Kevin Brown and Jamie Sohn volunteered to help lead the movement for a resource center. "We identified people who are willing to commit their time, and that's a real step forward," said junior Rudy Kleysteuber.
The possibility of the center was presented to Chancellor James Moeser last week by the Student Advisory to the Chancellor Committee. "The committee mentioned the resource center to the chancellor, and he was very supportive of the idea," said Lerissa Rentas, student body vice president.
A group of students from the School of Public Health visited the Center for LGBT Life at Duke University several weeks ago for ideas of what such a center could contribute. Duke's center provides support through activities such as sensitivity training, speeches and administrative work to co-sponsor events with other campus groups.
Such centers also are common at UNC's peer institutions, such as the University of California at Los Angeles, UC-Berkeley, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, said Sarah Stokes, a graduate student in the School of Public Health.
Stokes said there are several compelling reasons to form a center. "The needs of the LBGT community on campus are not well understood and certainly not well met," she said. "There certainly needs to be a support system for students who come to campus and are thinking about coming out."
Stokes said the center also could be used to create a sense of unity among LGBT men and women in the area.
"People come to campus knowing that there are other people like them here, but sometimes they're hard to find," she said.
Glenn Grossman, a member of the Carolina Alternative Meetings of Professional and Graduate Students, said a new center does not necessarily involve the construction of a new building because it could easily serve its function while occupying existing office space on campus.
"For us, it's just trying to include ourselves as much in the campus as possible," he said.
Several students made reference to the struggle that ensued over the construction of the Sonja H. Stone Black Cultural Center, stretching from the early 1990s until funding for the project finally was secured in September 1999.
"Anytime you're dealing with bettering the lives of minority students, you're going to have a struggle," Hashagen said. "While we are hopeful and think (the center) will be a reality, we won't kid ourselves into thinking it will be easy."
The University Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.