The reopening of the Office of LGBTQ Resources has brought rewarding challenges as staff balance in-person, virtual and hybrid programming for the 2020-21 academic year.
Following a period of closure due to the pandemic, the office opened its doors for in-person drop-in hours on Sept. 25. The office, located at 135 Prospect St., invites students to take advantage of their limited hours. Currently the office is open Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Office administration has also set ground rules for in-person engagement that comply with university-wide mandates for public health and safety during COVID-19: limiting occupancy, prohibiting food or drink, requiring masks and social distancing, keeping furniture where it is and respecting the office staff.
“We are building as we go in uncharted territory, thankfully with the insights, thoughtfulness and creativity of our incredible student staff and peer liaisons,” said Andrew Dowe, associate director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources and lecturer in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. “We hope the reopening will provide students on and around campus opportunities for connection and community, as well as additional opportunities for hybrid and remote programming.”
According to Dowe, there have been numerous changes to the office space itself in order to maintain compliance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
“We rearranged our entire space to adhere to social distancing guidelines of six feet between every person,” Dowe said. “Our focus throughout has been on creating opportunities for safe and comfortable social interactions—borrowing phrasing from our wonderful facilities superintendent, Jan, ‘comfy but not cozy.’”
Students can RSVP with Yale Connect to visit in person and can choose between a cafe spot and a lounge spot. The system allows people to verify which spots are available and when, with a majority of spaces available three days in advance of a visit and some spaces set aside for same-day bookings.
The transition to online reservations falls in line with efforts to maintain a safe environment during the pandemic. According to Dowe, this reservation system ensures that students will still have access to the office but in a safe way.
John Nguyen ’24, a student staffer at the Office of LGBTQ Resources, elaborated on some of the public health protocols that the office introduced.
“Some specific health compliance protocols in the Office [include] … one person per piece of furniture, even for a long sofa, checking in people one at a time at the check-in desk, and wiping down spaces used before and after,” Nguyen said.
According to Dowe, visitors of the Office are also asked to adhere to the community health expectations. The office also provides wipes, hand sanitizer and disposable masks for anyone who needs them, Dowe said.
The director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, Maria Trumpler, emphasized the necessity of an in-person safe space for students living in New Haven who are part of the LGBTQ+ community at Yale.
“We decided to try to open in person because we know that a lot of LGBTQ students had a really hard time with ‘stay at home’ orders if their ‘home’ was not accepting or even hostile to their LGBTQ identity,” Trumpler reflected. “We thought they would really appreciate a queer space. We also wanted to make sure the first years had an experience of a queer space.”
The reopening of the office has allowed for immediate engagement of first years. According to Dowe, the remote and on-campus peer liaisons have co-hosted drop-ins and other events for first years in recent weeks since the office’s reopening.
Nguyen commented that the reopening has given the office the ability to find new ways to engage LGBTQ students and maintain a sense of community despite the isolating nature of the pandemic.
“I’ve just started working, and as a first year, it’s very heartwarming to see how the LGBTQ Center’s PLs have been throwing little hangouts for their PLees in the Center, such as painting,” Nguyen said.
In addition to serving as an in-person meeting space, the office also touts a variety of online programming available to students regardless of their current enrollment status.
According to Dowe, some of the virtual programs the office hosts include Beyond the Binary meetings on Wednesdays and now Thursdays, as well as workshops on creating inclusive workplaces for graduate and professional students. These online workshops have become more accessible for many students, compared to the in-person events.
“Often more people come to online programming because of the ease of access than they did to in-person programming,” Trumpler said. “Sometimes Zoom even invites really honest sharing in a surprising way.”
The office is continuing its collaboration with other student organizations and campus centers, such as La Casa and the Afro-American Cultural Center, to host remote events, virtual mixers and talks that are live-streamed with recordings available on the Office of LGBTQ Resources website.
Dowe concluded by sharing his hope that these partnerships “will allow for meaningful, responsible community connections across campus and beyond.”
The Office of LGBTQ Resources will host its next weekly Beyond the Binary: Trans and Nonbinary conversation and community meeting virtually on Wednesday, Oct. 14 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Sydney Zoehrer | firstname.lastname@example.org