A rainbow of ideas were shared at the opening of Drexel’s new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Allied Student Center, held Oct. 22 in Behrakis Grand Hall. The center is located on the ground level of the Creese Student Center.
Following a reception, a panel of Drexel professional staff and alumni, as well as the Foundation of Undergraduates for Sexual Equality president, shared experiences and advice glorifying the mission of this new proponent of the LGBTQA community.Dave Lanza of Campus Philly moderated the event, which concluded with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the door to the center. Panelists noted shortcomings of the past and highlighted stimulating hopes for the future of the LGBTQA community on campus.
Lives of LGBTQA students at Drexel today are different than those of students three decades ago. Stephen Facenda, Drexel alumnus of the class of 1990 and employee of ViaMark Advertising, explained how the community was treated at Drexel in 1985.
“Society was homophobic, and Drexel was just a part of that society,” Facenda said.
“There has been an evolution of change on campus,” Joseph Salomone, registrar of the University, explaining the current culture, said. “Everybody is expressing their individuality and being who they are, and if we don’t continue to stress that, we won’t get the resources and support that we need at this University or anywhere.”
Now, because more people come out earlier in life, action must be taken to educate people about the sexual variations under the LGBTQA umbrella.
Panelist Erica Deuso, an employee of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies and an advocate for equal rights of transgender individuals in the workplace, was born male and underwent the process of becoming a female during adulthood. Deuso spoke fervently of the need to educate about transgender issues so that prejudice against individuals does not precede the development of their passion in school and at work.
Following the ribbon cutting, Maureen Nolan, a senior at Drexel and president of FUSE, noted the current mistreatment of transgender individuals on campus.
Transgender students are unable to alter the name given to their instructor on class rosters if they wish.
Nolan’s involvement in FUSE began her sophomore year. She joined as an ally to support a friend but eventually made reactionary progress. She created the petition for the development of the student center two years ago.
The idea for the LGBTQA Student Center came from a group of deeply committed students who organized a request that showed a clear need for the center. They presented that request to Dean of Students David Ruth in winter 2012, and he was swift to begin identifying a space.
Both he and Associate Dean of Students Rebecca Weidensaul enlisted the help of campus partners to design and sustain the center.
“This project has been pushed by a lot of passion, and that’s what we’ve got going for us. Tatiana Diaz is a really big driving force. Under her leadership, Drexel will really transform,” Nolan said.
“It is our hope that the LGBTQA Student Center will be a cornerstone in educating students on sexual orientation and LGBTQA topics as well as building allies in our community,” Diaz said in an email.
The LGBTQA Student Center is supported by the Student Center for Inclusion & Culture. It will be staffed by trained graduate students from the Couple & Family Therapy department in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. The staff will be available to meet with students to provide support and offer referrals to both Drexel and local community resources. Additionally, the center will house books, magazines and information on upcoming events.
The center will coordinate LGBTQA History Month and Transgender Remembrance Week programs. It will also host LGBTQ 101 and ally trainings for students and will support the affinity student organizations.
Finally, the center will partner with different offices to provide services specific to LGBTQA students, such as resume review sessions and mock interviews in collaboration with the Steinbright Career Development Center as well as alcohol and other drug counseling with the support of Drexel’s Choosing Healthy Options in Challenging Everyday Situations Center.
Most impactful of the benefits that the LGBTGA Student Center offers is the inspiration of students to be true to themselves. Panelist Rebecca Reyman — a Drexel alumnus, past FUSE president, and employee of a civil engineering firm — said she believes that those who are vulnerable or hurting should seek out community in order to explore who they are on the inside.
“Lean on others when you need support,” Reyman said. “Be an advocate. Stand up for others.”
Deuso agreed that pain is eased if replaced by unanimous courage.
“How you reconcile who you are is important,” she said. “Say to yourself, ‘Yes, this is who I am. There are others like me here. We should stand up and be counted.’”
The work of the new center would be in vain if leadership floundered. “It’s important to be an advocate for yourself, but it’s also important to be an advocate for your fellow community members. Remember everyone else that you represent in your community. Be a leader, not a follower,” Nolan said.
The panelists also told of organizations in the greater Philadelphia area and beyond that support civic and professional engagement in LGBTQ rights. Deuso mentioned her work on the Human Rights Campaign.
According to the campaign’s website, it, “advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office, and educates the public about LGBT issues.”
“You have to be yourself and not be afraid,” Harri Weinberg, associate director of Academic Information & Systems at Drexel, said. “Find a mentor. That will help you to understand that you can move forward.”
Edited Oct. 25 2013 at 5:30 p.m. – The original version of this article in print and online included a misquote from Tatiana Diaz. The article has been updated to remove that quote.