LGBT allowed to branch out in HSC offices

By Linda Luk

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Community will make its move to a new location, forming the first LGBT resource center at NIU.

Over Spring Break, Resources for the LGBT moved from the Campus Life Building to the seventh floor of the Holmes Student Center.

“This is something that we have been working toward for 10 years, and it has taken a lot of time and effort to reach this stage,” said Margie Cook, coordinator of the LGBT resource center. “It is exciting that we will finally have a space on campus specifically designated to promote a comfortable and supportive environment for the LGBT community.”

The center, located in rooms 704 through 707, will house an office for the coordinator, the graduate assistant, PRISM and a resource room.

“I’m excited about all of the possibilities for this new space — the programming it can house, the gathering space it can provide and the sense of community it can foster,” said Mary Shelden, an editorial assistant for University Libraries.

This space designated for the LGBT community not only will serve as a place for resources, but also as a safe place for LGBT students to gather, Shelden said.

“All kinds of people contact me with concerns relating to LGBT issues, such as research topics, faculty members teaching LGBT issues, contacts from parents and outside agencies that want help on this issue,” Cook said. “We are here to serve the entire community; anyone who has questions is welcome to come to the resource center for help.”

Establishing a resource center at NIU took a lot of time and effort that extended over a period of 10 years, Cook said. In the late 1980s and ’90s, a series of high-profile anti-gay incidents happened on campus, creating a very unsafe and threatening environment for LGBT students on campus, she said.

Former NIU President John LaTourette created a task force that conducted a campus-wide investigation to see what the university can do about the problem, she said.

A report submitted in 1993 made 42 recommendations of steps for NIU to take to improve its campus climate and better educate the campus community, Cook said.

Since then, the university has documented the need of more resources and services for the LGBT community. The position of program coordinator for LGBT programs was created in 1998.

“From then, in the four-and-a-half years, I began putting programs in place to serve the LGBT community and to educate the broader NIU community,” Cook said.

Over the four years, the demand has increased 227 percent — a huge jump, Cook said. That data influenced the university to create a resource center.

In fall 2001, the Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientations submitted a proposal to NIU President John Peters that asked the university to create a resource center, Cook said. Last spring, members of the commission and students from PRISM met with Peters and NIU Provost Ivan Legg. Legg designated the space for the resource center in October 2002.

To Shelden, the space is important, but not enough.

“The fact that it was granted during the current budget climate is a true testament to the university’s commitment to its LGBT students, faculty and staff, and to fostering diversity on campus,” Shelden said. “It will not accommodate all of our current needs, let alone needs that will surface as LGBT resources and programs continue to do their work on campus. Eventually the sufficiency of the space will have to be revisited.”

The center is one of three established in the state of Illinois, with the other two at the University of Illinois-Chicago and Urbana-Champaign. There are 60 LGBT resource centers nationwide.

In April, the university will celebrate LGBT Awareness Month, and the resource center plans to host an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 10.