Boston University announced a new LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center. Students made it happen.
In November, an LGBTQIA+ BU student task force report showed that nearly 80% of queer students felt some level of unwelcomed at the school. Months later, BU announced the opening of an LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center.
“I feel very unsupported here at BU and it is so clear once you get here that the BU administration does not care about supporting LGBTQ students.”
“I feel so alone at BU. They don’t make it easy to find queer community on-campus.”
“I have struggled so much when trying to get support at BU.”
In November 2022, a Boston University student-led report showed a vast majority of polled LGBTQIA+ students felt some level of unwelcomed at the university. And while some respondents praised individual classes, teachers, and student organizations, on the whole, the report’s responses painted a bleak picture of widespread queer invisibility and exclusion passed down from the administration to students.
According to the report, the school lacked funded LGBTQIA+ student-support services, a professionally staffed LGBTQIA+ student center, a dedicated LGBTQIA+ website, an LGBTQIA+ student advisory committee, and an accessible network of all-gender restrooms, policies several other schools in the country had implemented.
The report, authored by the LGBTQIA+ Boston University Student Task Force (LGBTQIA+ BUST), recommended 16 steps the university could take to improve queer visibility and equality on campus. These included hiring more LGBTQIA+ professors, creating additional all-gender bathrooms on campus, incorporating LGBTQIA+ curriculum into the university’s orientation, and chiefly, establishing an LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center.
And in February, the school took their first steps to address the concerns raised in the report: announcing the creation of a professionally staffed resource center for LGBTQIA+ students.
‘I would have absolutely benefited [if I] had those resources throughout this process.’
But before BU took this critical step, students felt the school wasn’t doing enough. For years, the school directed students who felt uncomfortable or were looking for a safe LGBTQIA+ space toward the Dean of Students office, Kris Berg, a BU graduate student and co-founder of LBGTQIA+ BUST, told Boston.com. But this process failed to provide any concentrated support to queer students.
“Students reported that their concerns were being treated as idiosyncratic and kind of one-off instances rather than systemic issues as a result of climate and policy,” Berg said. “And this is because having concerns handled in office with no clear documentation system makes it structurally impossible to properly identify and address these concerns.”
And this lack of a centralized LGBTQIA+ hub prevented students from receiving the support they needed.
Michael Arellano, another co-founder of LBGTQIA+ BUST, said that because the university lacked the necessary resources, they had no way to address the emotional barriers brought upon by a conservative, catholic upbringing. Arellano reported spending days in their room, feeling isolated from the rest of school.
“That was incredibly tough,” Arellano said. “I had to take a gap year, and during that gap year, I spent a lot of time thinking that … I would have absolutely benefited [if I] had those resources throughout this process … when learning that so many other institutions, they have student centers and they have student-oriented programs that can help with these kinds of situations.”
According to the report, nearly 80% of the 156 polled LGBTQIA+ students felt somewhere between unsatisfied and neutral toward the idea that the university provided a welcoming environment to queer students, and nearly 30% of students reported feeling uncomfortable being openly LGBTQIA+ in the classroom.
“Our findings indicate that BU has historically contributed to a culture of pervasive invisibility and system,” the LGBTQIA+ BUST said in an open letter to The Daily Free Press. “Our climate survey reveals that only 8.3% of LGBTQIA+ BU students are satisfied with the amount of LGBTQIA+ institutional resources provided. We also found that BU ranks last out of 46 peer and peer-adjacent institutions regarding LGBTQIA+ support and resources.”
And while students attempted to take on this issue themselves, with some reporting over 40 hours of unpaid labor to provide LGBTQAI+ peer support, many felt the lack of institutional backing from the school directly led to students taking leaves of absences and transferring schools.
‘We were doing this for future incoming friends.’
Deeply unsatisfied with the approach from the school, LGBTQIA+ students looked toward the university’s queer faculty. In 2019, a similar task force of LGBTQIA+ staff and faculty was charged by the school to issue a report with recommendations to improve queer visibility and support, and two years later, the school opened LGBTQIA+ Center for Faculty & Staff.
Inspired by this success, in 2022, seven BU students formed LGBTQIA+ BUST to issue a well-researched and academically-grounded report based on what schools around the country were doing, the current climate of LGBTQIA+ students on campus, and recommendations that the school could implement going forward.
“We were doing this for our friends. We were doing this for our past graduated friends. We were doing this for future incoming friends,” Arellano said. “We wanted to produce something of quality, and we wanted to create a compelling argument. Being students, progress, when it comes to student activism, usually only goes as far as administration allows. So throughout this whole process we wanted to ensure that what we created can be a tangible benchmark that students will always be able to look towards.”
And in light of the November report, and advocacy from several other student organizations, the university met with the task force — welcoming the idea of the student resource center with little convincing.
“Going into this meeting, we really prepared for all kinds of scenarios, but we were actually super pleasantly surprised by how receptive and action-oriented they were from the start,” Christa Rose, a BU student and a co-founder of the student task force, said in an interview with GBH. “President [Robert A.] Brown was basically like, ‘OK, we’re going to create a center. This is a no-brainer for us. Where do you want it to be?’
And in February, the school announced the creation of the LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center, which plans to open in 808 Commonwealth Ave. early in the 2023-2024 academic year.
“We were pleased to receive the LGBTQIA+ BU Student Taskforce’s report last fall and have taken a number of steps in response to their advocacy, including the recently announced creation of the LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center,” a spokesperson for Boston University said in an email to Boston.com “We believe the new center will be responsive to a number of the taskforce’s recommendations, as it will be a destination and home for students, while offering programming, dialogues, intersectional community building, and other resources.”
And because the center will provide a space focused on addressing LGBTQIA+ concerns, the students of the LGBTQIA+ task force hope that they will soon implement the rest of the report’s recommendations, something LGBTQIA+ BUST says school officials have already acknowledged they will do.
“When we met with the president, president provost, and interim dean of students, President Brown explained that [the university will be] creating an LGBTQ+ Student Resource Center, and one of the primary objectives of
that staffed team will be to implement the rest of our recommendations,” Berg said.
“LGBTQ+ student support is a very multifaceted and complex issue, and that is one of the reasons why we made 16 recommendations. Because the creation of the LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center is a super-critical first step, but it’s not the only thing that needs to be done.”
Recommendations regarding visibility, communication, and community
- Establish a professionally-staffed LGBTQIA+ Student Resource Center.
- Create and maintain a centralized, dynamic LGBTQIA+ at BU website.
- Build an inclusive campus climate by providing intersectional education, training, and resource materials focused on LGBTQIA+ identities.
- Participate in external and internal programs to evaluate, inform, and publicize BU’s inclusive practices.
- Further develop and apply inclusive communication guidelines.
- Invest in, value, and promote LGBTQIA+ scholars, scholarship, and teaching.
- Report, recognize, and reward service to BU’s LGBTQIA+ community.
- Commit to inclusion by renaming Silber Way, Myles Standish Hall, and Yawkey Center for Student Services.
Recommendations regarding creating an equitable and inclusive student experience
- Housing: Amend Gender-Neutral Housing and Gender-Affirming Housing to be more inclusive of and accessible to transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) students.
- Campus Planning & Operations: Create additional all-gender bathrooms across BU and increase their accessibility.
- Office of the University Registrar: Establish a simple, streamlined process for indicating names, gender identity, and pronouns across all of BU’s systems and define clear rationale for collecting and sharing this information.
- Student Health Services – Gender-Affirming Healthcare: Amend BU’s Gender-Affirming Healthcare services to provide additional services and more inclusive, affirming care.
- Student Health Services – Behavioral Medicine: Provide additional mental health resources for LGBTQIA+ students.
- Orientation: Take steps to ensure incoming LGBTQIA+ students feel welcome as soon as they arrive at BU.
- Center for Career Development: Provide tailored career services to help LGBTQIA+ students successfully compete in academic and professional job markets and thrive after graduation.
- Alumni & Friends: Increase engagement and networking opportunities among LGBTQIA+ alums.
Source: Boston Globe
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