On the ground floor of Baker Hall, an annex dorm behind Payne Whitney Gym, there’s a small workspace whose door is usually locked. You’ll pass a small meeting room as you walk down the hall. The first door is the Office of Alcohol and Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative. The second is the office of Melanie Boyd, an administrator whose work focuses on issues of sexual misconduct and culture. Behind the third door is a room about the size of an LDub double. This is the sole university LGBTQ office serving all students, faculty and staff — a community of over 18,000 people.
As board members of Yale’s LGBTQ Cooperative, Yale’s undergraduate LGBTQ umbrella group, we have spent countless hours with other LGBTQ leaders grappling with the question of where to host events and how to fund them. We compete for space with graduate groups and the people who call the Office of LGBTQ their workspace, where they do academic advising and have administrative meetings around campus policy. In order to host an event for which a classroom space is not comfortable or welcoming, we have to pay to rent a suite or fight, once again, to win space at the Women’s Center. We end up spending so much of our own time and money making sure that stuff happens, that by the time by the time our efforts bear fruit, we are too frustrated to enjoy them, and our community has lost interest. The Office of LGBTQ resources provides no funding for the Cooperative, giving its name a shade of irony.
Every year, freshmen ask us why the Office is so small and far away, and why almost none of the LGBTQ groups meet there. The dominating sentiments are confusion and disappointment: if Yale is the “Gay Ivy,” why doesn’t it support us? Most LGBTQ students have never used the Office. If a student were to walk in hoping to meet people or to find a space to be themselves and have fun, they would be sorely disappointed. Beyond administering the LGBTQ peer liaison program, the office offers almost no programming or resources geared towards undergraduates. Its website is populated with a cornucopia of graduate programming, but the only event posted “for undergraduates” for the fall semester was an ice cream social in September. Half the attendees were graduate students. The primary reason why undergraduates trek to the office is that they’re having a problem: homophobic roommates, being misgendered by a professor, etc.
The lack of resources Yale provides to LGBTQ undergraduates sets it apart. Yale isn’t just lagging behind its peer institutions, it’s eating their dust. Dartmouth, a school with a student body a third our size, has a freestanding LGBTQ center, LGBTQ-specific housing options, a scholarship fund for LGBTQ students disowned by their parents and open-access gender-neutral housing for all four years, among many other resources that Yale lacks. Penn, the “other” Gay Ivy, blows us out of the water, with a dedicated LGBTQ center that houses 25 student groups, incorporating a library, a lounge, a TV room and even a computer lab. It’s no surprise that the space attracts everyone, not just members of the LGBTQ community. These spaces allow students to make friends, to laugh, to find empathy in a peer community in a way that an office setting does not. Our own cultural houses are a great example of how to support marginalized communities on campus. They provide space for socializing and learning, benefiting the entire Yale community. An LGBTQ center could serve a similar purpose, providing space for all students to learn about LGBTQ issues and to explore their own identities.
For decades, Yalies have been pushing for an LGBTQ center. Now, we are at a critical moment in Yale’s history. The university has asked students to imagine the Schwarzman Center. While creating an LGBTQ center would not solve all the problems that LGBTQ students face, it would address nearly all of them. It gives us a space to meet, a space to socialize, a home base from which we can grow and come into our own. Following Princeton and other universities’ lead by placing our LGBTQ center within the general student center would welcome students who aren’t part of the LGBTQ community to wander in and learn, and to leave feeling more comfortable with themselves. Everyone, regardless of their sexual or gender identity, has to grapple with these issues in their own life or in relation to someone they care about. It’s vital to have these resources in a place where everyone can access them.
To imagine an LGBTQ space in the Schwarzman Center is nothing new. We have been imagining for long time. Now is the time for Yale to make that a reality.
Max Goldberg is a junior in Pierson College. He is the Leader of the YCC task force on LGBTQ Resources and an LGBTQ Peer Liaison. Contact him at email@example.com. Rianna Johnson-Levy is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. She is the Coordinator of the Yale LGBTQ Cooperative. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.