LGBT resource center smallest in the US

A comparative study of LGBT resource centers at top academic institutions found that USC’s, at 169 square feet, is the smallest in the country for schools that have such centers.

In theory, the center serves 4,000 students, according to Alyssa Coffey, executive director of the Queer and Ally Student Assembly. The center’s director, Rev. Kelby Harrison, led the research project last year to see how USC compared to other major universities.

The study found that the average size of LGBT resource centers is about 1,200 square feet. Rutgers University’s LGBT center, which is the second smallest after USC, has an area of 700 square feet. Harrison said that, despite being below average, Rutgers’s center still has a study lounge, offices and a reception area, far surpassing its USC counterpart.

“[Our] space is not just small. It is embarrassing,” Harrison said. “We also looked at the California fire code [regulations], and 169 square feet should only have eight occupants at any given time. We have seven employees that work here, six students and me. Which means that at any given time we’ve maxed out our code should all of my staff show up.”

Harrison explained how the center’s small size affects the LGBT community as a whole.

“For retention and for the psychological flourishing of the LGBT community, students need a space that feels welcoming, that feels like a living room, a place you can come to and study and relax and meet people and hang out with friends and just be you,” Harrison said. “While it is colorful and identity affirming, it isn’t that kind of relaxed space.”

Harrison argued that because they hold meetings and student workers are always at the office, the LGBT center is not a space to “drop in,” but more of a space for the “business of the center itself.” She also said that this has led them to do programming in other locations around campus, such as the Office of Religious Life, Taper Hall and the Von Kleinsmid Center.

“[This] means that we don’t have all our pamphlets on hand, we don’t have our educational materials or our historical materials nearby,” Harrison said. “We are just back in a vacant University space.”

Harrison also commented on how the LGBT center’s relative success may be an impediment to it gaining additional resources. She said that because the center does a “great job on paper” and meets many of the benchmarks in institutional indexes, the higher administration could be overlooking needs that should be met.

“We’re doing too good of a job, so they don’t notice how poorly this center is actually serving our students,” Harrison said. “It’s a paradox of sorts.”

Coffey explained that a year ago the LGBT resource center had a brief opportunity for expansion. After the Center for Women and Men moved to the Engemann Student Health Center, Coffey said, it gave its unused office space to the LGBT resource center. But at the end of the last school year, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Division Initiatives and Operations Timothy Bessolo was involved in the decision over how to repurpose the space, and it was decided that it would be turned into an Innovation Lab and a space for Student Affairs staff.

“We had a much-needed ability to expand into that office, and they were just taking it away without consulting with students or even the director of the resource center,” Coffey said. “It was a decision that came down from the top.”

In protest, members of the center and the LGBT community staged a demonstration at the center in July. More than two dozen students crowded the small room, breaking fire code.

“I think [administrators] think they care,” Coffey said. “Every time that students show [the administration] ways in which they could be better supported, it’s a bureaucratic spiral, and nothing ever happens.”

Bonnie Johnson, a graduate student working at the LGBT center, talked about her undergraduate experience at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and how expanding the center will require students to be more passionate.

“Back home, all the LGBT kids would kind of gather together [at the LGBT resource center] and be really passionate because everyone on campus treated them like sh*t,” Johnson said. “Here, because all the LGBT or queer kids are not as persecuted, they seem to be more defocused. There’s not a huge presence at the center.”

6 replies
  1. EH91
    EH91 says:

    “Expanding the center will require students to be more passionate”- except that the queer experience isn’t at its core a “club”, it’s our reality whether we want it or not! How ignorant. Queer students, especially in an environment of big money, white prominence, and an LGBT-uneducated student body, are likely to feel discouraged to participate in extracurriculars. I can’t speak for the state of USC’s resources today, but as recent as 2013 (my graduation year), very few events were focused on anything other than the “G” or “L”. Thankfully, Vincent and the student leaders were receptive, and I did see more intersectionality incorporated into the programs over the years via Facebook updates. But I can’t stress enough how necessary a “safe space” is to those who aren’t as willing to fraternize with the party-lovers in the student groups. Alcoholism and drug issues, especially within the transgender population at USC, went unnoticed, yet were nearly enough to almost end my own life. My friends and I still reluctantly attended events put on by QuASA, but we did so because there was no alternative. Even events billed as “dry” or “educational” were guaranteed to have the majority of members pre-gaming before-hand, making socializing hard for those uninterested or recovering.

    This is more than just an issue of office space- students NEED a place to go when everything and everyone else on campus fails them. The idea that it’s their responsibility to “rally” for this space only demonstrates how little the administration at USC understands the reality of the queer collegiate experience. A truly welcoming resource center would act as far more than just a Hang-Out Space- it could undoubtedly save lives, offer back-up when coming out leaves students disowned, or simply give leads on jobs.

  2. MrsPeel9
    MrsPeel9 says:

    As an alumnus who worked adjacent to student affairs, I know for a fact they don’t need extra space. Good reporting on this, though I’d like to hear from actual LGBT students who use the resource, not just the staff. Interested to see Timothy Bessolo’s response, as well — I hope he has one, and that the DT reports it. It’s a shame that a university that has often been lauded for its LGBT inclusion has such paltry resources to offer them. Keep following up on this, please!

    • Sophia Li
      Sophia Li says:

      Hi, can you clarify –> are you saying you know for a fact that Student Affairs doesn’t need the extra space? Your comment almost sounds like you’re saying the LGBT resource center doesn’t need extra space, but I hope/think we can both agree that it does. Also, not sure if you picked up on this part but the story does cite a student who uses the resource, Alyssa Coffrey. Not only is Alyssa a student, but as executive director of QUASA, she has been elected by her constituents (other LGBTQ+ students and allies) to program for and serve that community. I also think it’s possible that not as many LGBTQ+ students use the resource precisely because it is so small and limited spatially, but that’s just my speculation.

      • MrsPeel9
        MrsPeel9 says:

        Hi Sophia,

        My comment referred to the following quote:

        “But at the end of the last school year, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Division Initiatives and Operations Timothy Bessolo was involved in the decision over how to repurpose the space, and it was decided that it would be turned into an Innovation Lab and a space for Student Affairs staff.”

        To clarify: I absolutely think the LGBT center needs the space. I don’t think it should’ve been usurped for “an Innovation lab and a space for Student Affairs staff,” hence my dig at Student Affairs. Thanks for pointing out the student mentioned, though, I did miss that (though I would like to see more interviewed — I don’t think one student is enough). Either way, I do very much hope the DT follows up on this story, as I think it’s an important one.

        • ConcernedTrojan
          ConcernedTrojan says:

          I’m very confused and hope one of you can help clarify this for me. Before Vinent left (the former director), he authored a resolution with USC to ensure a meeting space for LGBT students. When Kelby arrived, administrators gave them a huge conference room just a few feet down their current office in Student Union. So they technically have 2 large rooms in Student Union, more than any other group in Student Union. So now they want more space? I’m just a little confused. I’ve been in the offices multiple times and, most of the time, it is empty except for the IT guy. Also, as this article correctly mentions, the center does most of their activities in URC because those facilities are HUGE and any student group can use them for free. Also, the location of LGBT center is really ideal because it’s located next to the other cultural offices of the Black student union, El Centro, etc.

          Real talk though, honestly, the school is having a very hard time with finding space for everything right now. If you’re an upperclassmen science student, you can remember where the old chemistry labs were in the dungeon. Many people don’t know this, but the academic and deans offices for USC Dornsife are actually located in Downtown Los Angeles because the main campus doesn’t have enough room for those offices.

          • Anonymous
            Anonymous says:

            The “huge” room you mentioned was allowed to be used by the Resource Center (with the leftover office furniture the old tenant didn’t want) for less than a semester before being taken away for a different purpose. The remodeling project was canned by Student Affairs. The only room they have now is space that barely accommodates one couch for students. URC does have space available in the evenings, but is on the other side of campus and has no equipment other than a few tables and a lot of mismatched chairs.

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