Two years ago, a comparative study of LGBT resource centers at top academic institutions found that USC’s center, at 169 square feet at the time of the study, was the smallest in the country. Since then, USC’s LGBT resource center has been expanded to include a new lounge, dubbed the “Lavender Lounge.”
“[The study] did draw some awareness to the size of the center,” said Rev. Kelby Harrison, the center’s director. “We were given about a 270-square-foot room to turn into a student lounge, which has been very popular.”
Ronnie Dong, a junior majoring in communication and sociology and the communication coordinator of the center, cited the center as a space of comfort for LGBT students.
“The Lavender Lounge is a really chill and safe place,” Dong said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “LGBT students can go [there] to do work, take a nap, grab a snack or coffee or just come to unwind and doodle on the walls, all of which are things I’ve done.”
According to Harrison, the lounge has built a community among USC’s LGBT students in a way that was not possible before.
“We certainly have a consistent group of students who make use of it daily or at least weekly,” Hamson said.
Dong agrees that the “Lav Lounge,” as it is known, is consistently populated with students.
“It’s small enough that it allows students to mingle and meet new peers as well,” they said. “It’s a comfortable space where anyone can come to relax or do whatever and having that accepting atmosphere at work is so relieving. Being at a place where I know my pronouns are respected — and I don’t have to hide my queerness — has really helped create a positive impact at USC.”
Lead undergraduate student worker Angel Zayas explained that the renovation has had a noticeable effect on the amount of students who come into the center, but that the space is lacking.
“I would say 10 times the number of people come in now,” Zayas said. “We could still use a lot more space, but I guess we’re working with what we have.”
Zayas feels that a comfortable space for not only the LGBT community, but also other communities on campus, is important. However, he believes that supporting minorities should be more of a priority for USC.
“USC has a lot of funds that go into a lot of other things,” Zayas said. “But they don’t see the value in having a space where marginalized communities can not only be around each other, but also escape. Especially in times like this, under a Trump administration and with hate crimes happening basically every day now. We have a lot of money going into the [USC village], and I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. That’s profitable, but serving certain communities isn’t always profitable, but it’s necessary.”
Additionally, Dong feels that the LGBT presence is smaller than they originally expected it to be.
“I wouldn’t say that the LGBT community is weak, but that it’s a niche and rather small and insulated,” they said. “The queer clubs that exist and the resource center [are] supportive and a good place to go for support and like-minded peers, but I still feel that overall USC doesn’t really tend to openly support or assist those marginalized identities, including but not limited to just the LGBT community.”
Despite these concerns, Harrison has noticed a growing sense of acceptance and inclusion that has extended past the center.
“Students make connections with each other there,” Harrison said. “Then, they can build friendships and relationships outside of that space, which is also healthy for our student organizations across the board.”
In addition to allowing for expansion, the University also doubled the LGBT resource center’s programming resources and staff budget in response to the comparative study, allowing the center to hire another staff person and more student workers. However, even with the extra resources and expansion, USC’s LGBT resource center is still smaller than the other centers compared in the original 2013 study.
“We’re still a couple hundred square feet smaller than the second smallest of our peer institutions, which is Rutgers,” Harrison said.
The 2013 study found that the average size of LGBT resource centers is about 1,200 square feet. Rutgers University’s LGBT center has an area of 700 square feet, noticeably larger than the size of USC’s center even after it was expanded about 270 square feet.
Harrison notes that more space at the center would mean more opportunities for the LGBT community at USC.
“If there was more space, we’d have more programming, more community building, more people using the lounge,” Harrison said. “We know that students sometimes will stop by and it’s too crowded, so they’ll leave again.”
According to Harrison, there is no space to expand the center in its current location, so the center hopes to relocate to an area with more space.
Dong would also like to see the center expand and continue to receive greater resources.
“I think that these small programs can always do with being expanded further,” Dong said. “Though I wasn’t aware of the study, I’m not surprised at all. Hearing from friends at many of the UCs, they have a lot more space or resources or clubs for their LGBT students, and I think that USC could also take a page out of that and follow suit.”