Student leaders, staff discuss new Gender Sexuality Resource Center, safe spaces on campus


Daily file photo by Ava Mandoli

Foster-Walker Complex. The new GSRC is set to open in the 2023-24 academic year on the first floor of House Five in the Foster-Walker Complex.

Lexi Goldstein, Assistant Campus Editor

Many students, like Communication senior Jo Scaletty, came to Northwestern looking for people who can understand challenges that can come with having queer identities. 

“I feel like I have a perception that queer people just kind of find each other,” Scaletty, who is also external president of Rainbow Alliance, said. “I think it’s sometimes bizarre — even to me — how it just happens over and over again, but it happened for me, so I was very glad.”

About a quarter of NU’s undergraduate population identifies as LGBTQ+, which is triple the 2013 figure, according to 2021 data from the Consortium on Financing Higher Education. 

Multiple new queer student spaces have been founded in recent years, including the Society of Trans and Non-binary Students and an Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics chapter in 2022. 

“I know I’ve seen my numbers grow over the past three years here, probably close to double or triple what the engagement was when I first got here,” said Matthew Abtahi, assistant director of Multicultural Student Affairs.

The 650-square-foot Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, located on the third floor of Norris University Center, is designed to be a safe space for queer students on campus. But many students have compared the space to a “closet” and said the location is too small and lacks privacy. 

To address these concerns, Abtahi said plans are underway to move the GSRC to House Five in Foster-Walker Complex. The new space, almost four times as large as the current Norris location, could open during the 2023-24 academic year, he added. 

“I think it is only appropriate for us to move on out of the humble space we have and slowly get towards finally meeting what students have asked for,” Abtahi said.

The new GSRC’s proposed floor plan features a creative work space, tech hub and mini stage for small performances, they said.

Scaletty said Rainbow Alliance was heavily involved in advocating for and planning the new GSRC.

“We want a space that we can come in and feel safe, and like we could just stay there all day if we needed to,” they said. “A space where we can just kind of relax from sometimes frustrating situations that happen on campus.” 

For Scaletty, it is important that the GSRC can be a safe space for students who have been misgendered or had class in a building without all-gender restrooms, they said. 

GSRCs are standalone resource centers that students can go to for trainings, educational seminars or one-on-one consultations, Abtahi said.

“Think like a Norris, but very queer — without a Starbucks, maybe a coffee maker,” he said.

However, for Abtahi, the Foster-Walker Complex GSRC is considered the mid-range solution for creating a queer resource space on campus. The long-term solution would be a standalone house, he said. 

Abtahi said creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students beyond the GSRC is also an ongoing goal of the MSA.

McCormick sophomore Nikolai Ortiz, who has worked in the MSA and is vice president of OSTEM, said seeing rainbow flags and general support for the LGBTQ+ community the first time he came to Evanston was a beacon of hope after growing up in a conservative part of Texas. 

Yet many students, including Ortiz, said they do not know of queer student groups beyond Rainbow Alliance. 

“We have so many student organizations on campus,” Ortiz said. “I feel like for some reason, nobody knows about the queer ones on campus.”

Most groups use Listservs and Discord to publicize activities like events or meetings. However, some leaders of queer student groups have to limit publicity in an abundance of caution, according to Ortiz.

When taking photos for an Instagram post, Ortiz said OSTEM has to ensure all members are out and comfortable being photographed and posted. He added that OSTEM chose to not publish its Discord link on fliers out of fear of malicious activity and exposing people who may not be fully out yet.

But, some students also hope for increased support from the University in terms of having more all-gender bathrooms.

Weinberg sophomore Claire Schwartz, a member of the LGBTQIA+ Student Advisory Board, said NU does not have enough all-gender bathrooms and that the ones available are difficult to find or are locked on weekends.

Schwartz said the board worked with administrators last year to clarify the meaning of “all-gender housing” and advocate for more all-gender bathrooms.

The University currently has at least 42 all-gender restrooms on campus, according to the MSA’s map. For all-gender housing offerings, NU has more than tripled the number of all-gender beds — from 88 to 279 — since 2019, Media Relations Managing Editor Erin Karter wrote in an email to The Daily.

At a meeting this quarter, the board discussed concerns with a new system in which pronouns and preferred names are displayed in campus systems. The University’s Gender Queer, Non-Binary and Trans Task Force worked with NUValidate to create the system.

We had a lot of concerns about (the display change), especially around the fact that if you change your name somewhere, it changes everywhere,” Schwartz said. “For people not out to their parents, and their parents see (the changes) on CAESAR, that can pose an issue.”

Abtahi said they keep trans, nonbinary and Black queer students in mind when creating new programs regarding safe spaces. According to COFHE data, trans and nonbinary students are more likely to feel out of place, sad and less hopeful than their cishet peers at NU. 

He said in a “dream world,” the MSA would have more funding to address some of the root causes of data trends across the University.

“The fact that every office in student affairs is digging through their budget to see how this can be possible to serve queer students tells me everyone knows and cares and wants to do better by the 24% of our students (who) are LGBTQIA+,” Abtahi said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lexipgoldstein

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