One segment of UNM’s student population has slipped through the cracks, says undergraduate Jeffrey Waldo. “UNM has a national reputation for its diversity and takes really great efforts in welcoming its diversity, but the queer community has really been overlooked."
The remedy? A dusty office space on the University of New Mexico campus could soon get a splash of rainbow colors. Waldo and another student, David Griffith, have all but secured around $85,000 to create a Queer Resource Center (QRC) equipped with a paid staff, computer pod and gender-neutral bathroom. It would be housed in the basement of an empty accounting building on the west end of campus.
The Student Fee Review Board, a body made up of undergraduate and graduate students, recommended that it would take $4 from each student to start the center, which could open as early as next fall.
Hubs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student populations are common on campuses across the country, Waldo says. In fact, 12 of 16 of UNM’s peer institutions offer queer resource centers, and New Mexico State University has one.
Waldo approached Josephine De León, UNM’s vice president for Equity and Inclusion, in October with an idea for the center. De León's office also oversees ethnic centers, including African American Student Services, American Indian Student Services and El Centro de la Raza.
Mesa Vista Hall houses those student resources, along with the Accessibility Resource Center and the Women Studies program. Waldo says the ultimate goal is to secure space in Mesa Vista.
De León says in an e-mailed interview that Equity and Inclusion is exploring ways to fund the center from year to year with grants or fundraising. “We will need to start small and build services as we are able to build the funding base,” she says. “More than likely we will need to seek external sources of funding since the University is undergoing major budgetary constraints.”
“College is a time of self-discovery, so I do think that people start coming to terms with it more in college, being away from home for the first time—all that stuff.”
Student David Griffith helped draft the proposal for the Student Fee Review Board. He says discrimination against LGBT youth at UNM is rare; still, it’s necessary to offer a place of refuge.
“I think there’s a lot of internalized homophobia that people experience, just in hearing slurs thrown around. Some people experience it more directly,” he says. “I also think that college is a time of self-discovery, so I do think that people start coming to terms with it more in college, being away from home for the first time—all that stuff. I think that the QRC would just be a way to better welcome everyone regardless of where on the spectrum they are.”
Griffith says the center could be a safe zone for students struggling with an identity crisis.
“LGBT and college-aged youth are at increased risk of substance abuse and suicide, and a lot of that is not having anywhere to turn,” he says. “That’s one of the things we want to be able to do at the QRC, provide that type of crisis intervention, just a safe-zone environment.”
Waldo and Griffith are both members of the Queer Straight Alliance at UNM. Weekly meetings see between 40 and 50 people—both members of the LGBT community and straight allies. And in December, almost 600 students, staff, faculty and community members showed up at the first-ever Queer Straight Alliance drag show.
Despite this established support structure, Griffith says the resource center would offer regular hours and a full-time staff, which the alliance simply can’t provide. “The QSA is mostly a social group that’s run entirely by students and student volunteers,” he says. “By having consistent hours and a consistent location, we’d be able to reach a lot more people, graduate students and faculty. The QSA is very predominantly undergraduate, right now at least.”
He adds that the center could help engage a more reticent portion of UNM’s gay community. “Those members of the population who aren’t as open to go do something like the QSA could also get resources there in a much more confidential, professional manner."
About $30,000 of the student fee allocation would go toward the salary of a program coordinator, who would seek to secure external funding sources for the center and do outreach and recruitment. The rest would go to operating expenses, salaries for staff and graduate assistants, computers, and furniture.
UNM President David Schmidly is expected to approve the Queer Resource Center with the review board's other recommendations in the coming weeks. But Waldo admits that after the center is approved, there’s still a long way to go before it will be up and running.
“My supreme goal of this is that it will be barrier-breaking, so then it won’t just be for gay people. It will just network with everybody to fight for social justice for all,” he says. He’s will willing to start small: A regular turnout of people who would use the space and its services would be great, too.
“Right now it’s going to be a basement, so what can we really expect?”