LGBT Resource Center celebrates a decade of service

LGBT staff
What started in a portable trailer with one woman organizing events and programs has evolved over the past decade into a bustling hub designed to make all students at the University of North Florida feel comfortable and safe. As the LGBT Resource Center observes its 10th anniversary this year, the University has also seen a boost in its Campus Pride ranking, which rates schools on their services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

"Because we are able to provide a campus experience that is all encompassing, students know they can be comfortable no matter where they are," said Kaitlin Legg, the center’s assistant director, who explained that UNF moved from three to four on the five-star ranking. "That definitely sets UNF apart, not just in the state but the country, on how inclusive we are and for the services we provide."

Last year, thousands of students used the center’s services, which include a physical place to study and socialize, support for LGBT organizations, educational programs and resources, leadership training, and volunteer and internship opportunities. Others from the community also attend center-sponsored events and programs, according to Legg.

Although the majority of students and community members who use the center’s resources are those who identify as LGBT, others participate to learn more about people with these identifications and how to treat them with respect. "Younger generations have a vast range of knowledge about people that older generations don’t have," Legg said. "They come to college wanting to have these conversations."

The center was created largely as a result of a 2005 survey conducted by the UNF Committee on Equity and Civility in cooperation with the Public Opinion Research Laboratory. Its report released in January 2006 showed a need for the University to help LGBT students feel more accepted and safe on campus.

Legg, who came to the center in 2013 after two years at the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Rochester in New York, said she was impressed not only that UNF had the center but also by the University’s 100 percent commitment to equality for all people.

Legg credits Emily Rokosch, founding coordinator of the center, for starting the important work to create an inclusive campus. Rokosch is now director of operations for JASMYN, which supports young people — mostly those who identify as LGBT or questioning — throughout Northeast Florida. The organization is one of several that partners with the center on community-based support programs, Legg said.

"How we’ve grown over the past 10 years is amazing," Legg said of the center, now centrally located in the Student Union Building. In addition to two full-time professional staff members, students work on programs to improve inclusiveness and raise awareness of gender identity concerns.

Fulterius King is a graduate student who coordinates its mentoring program, a position funded by a grant from the LGBT Community Fund for Northeast Florida. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgia State University and has been at UNF since last fall studying clinical mental health counseling. He coordinates activities for Club Cando, a 10-month, community-based achievement and mentoring program for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and/or asexual. He matches students with community mentors who provide resources on personal and professional levels.

"It is empowering for students to see people who come from similar backgrounds achieve things in life," King said. "As a gay student, the center is very important to me. It positively impacts my identity development."

This year for the first time the University is providing Gender Inclusive Housing to ensure inclusive and supportive living arrangements for all students. "UNF is the fourth university in Florida to offer this option but the first of the public institutions to have it," Legg said. "Eight students live there, with a goal of 16 next year. For LGBT students, not being sure if the people you live with are going to be OK with who you are can be a huge burden," she said.

Taylor Holt, a pre-nursing freshman, has already applied to live there again next year. "I came in feeling I was among friends. Living there has been great. I feel comfortable with people who have similar experiences as I do. People who are familiar with my identification know how to treat me and how to talk to me."

Legg said making everyone on campus feel comfortable and accepted is the main focus of the center. "For a lot of LGBT students, it’s their second home," she said. "We really think that support component is important."

"Having the resource center at UNF informs incoming students that this is a friendly campus. It makes it more inviting for LGBT students coming from high school to feel safe," King said. "It’s a place where people can chill and hang out, not only to study and check out a DVD or a book, but also to talk about what’s going on in classes and on campus."