Representatives from the student-run Foundation of Undergraduates for Sexual Equality are honing in on a goal they began working toward last summer — to establish a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students on Drexel’s University City campus.
FUSE has been represented in the LGBTQ Advisory Board, a broader alliance of undergraduate and graduate students, law students and professional staff who all seek to find space for an LGBTQ center on campus. Freshman sociology major Kenny Wittwer has been representing FUSE and the Office of Multicultural Programs at these meetings. Additionally, he drafted the proposal that will be presented to Dean of Students David Ruth.
“Right now Drexel doesn’t have any centralized resources for queer students,” Wittwer said. “An LGBTQ center would be an official gesture from the administration expressing support and that they value the needs of the queer community.”
Wittwer has been working under the leadership of Kerry Hooks, director of multicultural programs at the James E. Marks Intercultural Center.
“Kerry has been leading and facilitating all of the LGBTQ Advisory meetings for this initiative,” Rebecca Reyman, a junior civil engineering major and FUSE co-president, said. “Without her help and guidance, we would never have made the progress that we have in less than a year.”
Key FUSE leaders created an online petition through Change.org that went live Feb. 12 for the purpose of gaining support for the proposed center. They distributed the link to the organization’s mailing list, and FUSE members promoted the petition through social media.
Maureen Nolan, FUSE events coordinator and a pre-junior corporate and public relations major, commented on the rapid student response to signing the petition. As of Feb. 16 there were over 650 of the requested 1,000 signatures.
“Really, it’s humbling and inspiring,” Nolan said. “It helps us remember that we are not alone in our fight for equality and that there are many students and staff who are willing to work with us to make this a reality.”
The “about” section of the petition highlights some of the main reasons the group believes an LGBTQ center is essential for Drexel’s campus. It notes that “a recent study by the Williams Institute suggests that roughly 4 percent of the nation’s population identifies as LGBTQ, suggesting that Drexel University could potentially have several hundred LGBTQ students.”
Some students left comments after signing the petition, noting that the creation of the proposed center would “create a climate of acceptance and constructive diversity.”
On Feb. 13, organizing manager of Change.org Joe Mirabella recognized FUSE’s efforts by featuring the petition on Change.org’s Gay Rights Facebook page.
While a potential location for the center has not yet been established, Reyman said that Hooks, Ruth and Associate Dean of Students Rebecca Weidensaul are looking into this aspect of the proposal.
“We would like for the LGBTQ center to have a number of full-time professional staff members to perform various duties including facilitating educational programming, social outreach and collaboration with other offices on campus,” Reyman said. “FUSE would not be responsible for running the center but would be able to benefit from its many resources.”
FUSE members seek to run their meetings out of this new center instead of their current location in the multipurpose room of North Hall. Reyman said she’d like to see the center offer speakers, counseling support, health education and gender-neutral bathrooms. Other proposed features include a library for media with LGBTQ themes, free legal advice regarding discrimination, and sensitivity training.
“With all the construction going on now, securing spaces for events or weekly meetings is difficult for all groups,” Nolan said. “FUSE has served as a safe haven for many LGBT students over the years, and being able to meet in a space dedicated to LGBTQ students would create an environment that is safe to all and free of judgment.”
Unlike Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania has an LGBTQ center with frequent events and resources available to students.
“Almost everyone I’ve talked to has been surprised that Drexel doesn’t already have [a center], and I can’t say I’ve experienced any significant opposition,” Wittwer said. “Drexel students are almost universally forward-thinking.”
Other influential FUSE members who have been working toward this goal are William Lukas, a sophomore sociology major and FUSE secretary, and Nick DiConstazo, a pre-junior operations and supply chain management major and FUSE treasurer.
To sign the petition, visit the FUSE Facebook page or search for “Drexel University: Support Creation of LGBTQ Center” on Change.org.