RU Proud drives for gender justice center
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 19:10
Roosevelt could see a new Gender Justice Center for students — specifically the LGBT community, gender studies students and faculty members — as early as next academic year. The new space would offer a hybrid between a gender studies area and queer center.
After a large amount of departments, classrooms and faculty offices moved to the new Wabash Building, plenty of opportunity for new spaces opened up in the Auditorium Building.
Lucas Barnhill, president of RU Proud, said he has been advocating for a queer space on campus for years.
“It’s isolating to know that the only queer spaces on campus happen only two hours a week. The fact that you can’t have a community that you can find and socialize with...it’s isolating,” said Barnhill, referencing the two meeting times RU Proud has each week.
Barnhill pointed out that a majority of universities in Chicago have some sort of queer center on their campuses, even the religiously affiliated schools. He said it reflects poorly on Roosevelt by not having one.
“While we are pretty progressive for being an educational institution, there are still a lot of things that we don’t have,” Barnhill said. “Roosevelt always prides itself on being an innovator.”
Ellen O’Brien, director of women’s and gender studies, submitted the space request for the new center in Feb. 2011 and has been instrumental in getting this space at Roosevelt. The area would likely include a lounging area, computers for graduate assistants and a seminar table for workshops and speakers.
“We made sure that we highlighted that Roosevelt actually lacks this resource that a lot of universities do have, and we think that we should make this step,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien said that the space would not only be for events and activism, but it would also offer a place for informal interactions between students to help foster understanding and promote education.
“Those informal interactions tend to happen when there is a space that people go to in common,” O’Brien said. “That’s what we’re interested in; it’s connected to an academic program so we’re interested in the kinds of academic brainstorming that could go on, the way that students can support each other through their gender based work.”
According to O’Brien, the space would be used partly as a think tank and also as a way to build interactions. O’Brien also said that a space like this could help raise awareness and spark intellectual and activist interest among the student body.
“I feel that it’s important because it’s very much connected to the mission, and it’s attempting to foster connections between the academic unit and the students and the student groups that they form,” O’Brien said. “I think it can be a great dynamic opportunity for us to learn from each other and counter each other and keep the conversation about gender justice moving forward in all of its complexity.”
However, before any of the details can be hammered out, the proposal must go through a multistep process. The Auditorium Building still has plenty of renovations and construction projects on the horizon, including rehabbing a lot of the spaces currently in the building. These must be done before any of the specifics for the space can be determined.
Michael Ensdorf, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, said that an ideal location for the center would be the old labs on the fifth floor of the Auditorium Building due to the large spaces.
Another issue is the start-up cost for a space like this and how it would be funded. According to Ensdorf, he will be meeting with the head of facilities to discuss what is needed for the space and how much from the facilities budget can be devoted to it.
“My job is really to make sure that the departments and programs really get what they need to operate and to grow. I want this to happen,” Ensdorf said.
After submitting a list of what the needs are for the Gender Justice Center, the facilities department will relay what on the list is a realistic and viable option and fits with the budget. Then there will be a bidding process to find a construction company that will take on the project, and, only after that, the renovations can begin.
Ensdorf said renovations are expected to start on the Auditorium Building by the summer, and the new space could be completed by next fall. Some of the things that need to be considered for the space include electrical work, plumbing, carpeting, demolition, painting, and new furniture.
“What goes on in the space is much more important than the space itself. My job is to get the best space possible and make it as good as it can be,” said Ensdorf.
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