A new LGBTQ+ Pride Center has opened in the old Center for Intercultural Life (CIL) and Spiritual Life Ofice.
The Pride Center will house an open space for LGBTQ+ students, serve as a meeting place for Common Ground, the Queer and Trans People of Color Collective (QTPOCC) and include a 24 hour study space provided by the Multicultural Student Advisory Concil (MSAC).
Once President of Common Ground Ashley Kerley, senior, learned the CIL was going to be vacated, she became involved in obtaining the space and defining what its uses will be. However, Knox President Teresa Amott only recently gave permission for the space to be used as a Pride Center.
The members of Common Ground were interested in a new space for LGBTQ+ students because the Human Rights Center is on the edge of campus and is not in the best condition.
“It’s a completely student- run building, which is cool and serves a certain purpose, but we were looking for something that was more central, that could offer more institutional support and that was specific to the LGBT community,” Kerley said.
The old CIL offered Common Ground that centrality and new LGBTQ+ advisor, Student Engagement Coordinator Andrew Salemi, offered Common Ground the extra help they were looking for to secure the space.
“That’s the kind of institutional support that we were totally missing last year,” Kerley said.
Before they had Salemi as an advisor, Kerley and Vice President of Common Ground Teslin Penoyer, senior, often felt their requests were ignored by faculty and staff.
“We just felt like we were a bunch of students running around trying to get a lot done and not everyone was listening to us because we were just students,” Kerley said.
Kerley and Penoyer envision the Pride Center as a safe space for LGBTQ+ students. Besides serving as a meeting space for Common Ground and QTPOCC, the Center will offer a 24-hour study room, a living area featuring an art wall, bean bag chairs, coloring pages, board games and a kitchen stocked with snacks and drinks.
Salemi said the importance of intersectionality was highlighted in the formation of the Pride Center as different groups became involved in making the space. But Common Ground, MSAC and QTPOCC have yet to meet together to discuss the center. Salemi hopes MSAC’s connection with the Pride Center will encourage a connection between the new space and the HOPE Center.
Sasha Gurzakovic, senior, one of the co-founders of MSAC, said there was a need for an LGBTQ+ safe space and a need for a 24 hour study space on campus. However, Gurzakovic and Blanchard felt the emphasis on intersectionality to be disingenuous.
According to Gurzakovic, MSAC used to meet in the old CIL. They have since moved to the HOPE Center for meetings but were aware of the need for a 24 hour study space in the wake of the closing of the commons in CFA. Since the fall of 2018, MSAC has been discussing the potential for a new study space in the old CIL.
Over the summer, MSAC was notified that the CIL had been given to Common Ground and QTPOCC.
“We got an email saying that we now had the option to either step away from the space completely or work on it, make it a collaborative space. So it’s both a 24 hour study space and the Pride Center, and we’ve opted to make it a collaborative space,” Gurzakovic said.
Gurzakovic said she was frustrated that most of the communication so far seems to have been between administration and Common Ground, leaving MSAC and QTPOCC out of the loop. Blanchard said members of QTPOCC were not informed of the Pride Center until they arrived on campus.
Gurzakovic and Blanchard both said their frustrations were with administration and there were no hard feelings toward Common Ground or any other groups of students.
“It’s really hard for people to feel included if they’re working really hard for something and then other people are getting it,” Blanchard said.
Despite their concerns about intersectionality, Gurzakovic and Blanchard are both excited for there to be a dedicated LGBTQ+ Pride Center on campus.
The Pride Center is currently unofficially open, but Salemi plans on hosting an open house once Common Ground, MSAC and QTPOCC decide on open hours.