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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

LGBTQ+ Culture Center raising money to transform center into more student friendly space


Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center is raising money to fund their Re-Envisioning Project, which will help the center better meet student needs with updated student spaces and service areas. 

Since opening in 1994, the LGBTQ+ Culture Center has grown from one room to utilizing the entire building on 705 E. Seventh St., according to the Re-Envisioning Project website. But the building’s layout has created several challenges, including limited space for students to gather and ineffective service spaces.  

Bruce Smail, director of the LGBTQ+ Culture Center and special assistant to the vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, said the culture center wanted to look at how they could turn the center into a space that was more student friendly. 

“As you walked into the center you notice that there's just offices, offices, offices, and so it doesn't necessarily feel as welcoming for students,” Smail said. 

The Re-Envisioning plan will transform the center’s layout so it’s more welcoming, functional and student friendly, according to the project website. The project will also create a new student café and lounge, a revamped library space, an updated conference room, a new counseling and HIV testing room and a room for the gender affirming closet. 

The gender affirming closet, according to the center’s website, provides free clothing for anyone regardless of gender identity or expression, LGBTQ+ status, IU affiliation or financial need. Clothing can be washed and returned, so long as it’s in good condition, but people are welcome to keep it.  

Currently the center conducts confidential HIV testing through Positive Link from IU Health according to the website

One office, Smail said, will become one of the student staff offices. 

 The center, Smail said, will be transformed with more flexible space.  

“Like the student staff office will have moveable tables and chairs that we could actually create more space in here if we needed to, you know we could create a little bit more space in the library and conference room will be extremely flexible as well.” Smail said. 

[Related: IU offering new diversity certification program]

Smail, along with center staff, students and others, worked with IU Design to revision the center’s updated layout. Smail said students’ biggest concern was creating a space that felt like a home rather than an office space. 

From what he could gather, Smail said, people are very excited about that; especially the student café lounge. 

Smail said students are also excited about the gender affirming closet, which used to be boxes, and the conference room. 

“So ultimately, the goal is to kind of make sure we're bringing in more people in the center and utilizing the center,” Smail said. 

Kristen Lucas, administrative generalist coordinator at the center, said when they give tours and tell people how the space will change, the immediate reaction is positive. 

“It seems like there is immediate, like, ‘Oh, that'll be really cool and something to look forward to’,” Lucas said.  

Lucas said the Re-Envisioning Project feels like it’s focused on increasing student comfort and accessibility. 

“It just feels like a plan that was very thought through and intentional and like they asked for feedback when making the plan, so I appreciate that,” Lucas said.  

Evan Hurst, the center’s graduate assistant, said when he heard students talk about the project, they were excited about it. Many first-year students, he said, were really excited to know the center even existed. 

“They were happy that you know, with whatever we had, because it's a great resource, but the renovations themselves have lots of like, very juicy tidbits that we're excited to have,” Hurst said. 

When he learned about the Re-Envisioning plan, Hurst said he was immediately struck by the design choices because, while he does appreciate the center’s character, there are a few things that need updating.  

“I think a little facelift here and there is never going to really hurt student engagement, and, in some ways, it may actively improve it,” Hurst said. 

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The center, Smail said, is currently on a major fundraising campaign and has raised about $21,000. Most of this money, he said, came through a grant from the queer philanthropy circle. Funding support has also come from the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and facilities to reach their goal of about $88,000, Smail said. 

“We're continuing to seek the additional funding and as soon as we've reached that figure, we should be able to begin the process of the renovation,” Smail said. 

Once the renovation process begins, Smail said, the center will have to shut down for about a month to move furniture in and out of the building and paint. They will shift to virtual programming, Smail said, but he is unsure if the center will give people other ways to get involved. 

“My hope is that we'll either have the funds raised before the winter break and then maybe this can happen during winter break or that it will be raised by May,” Smail said. “Then we can do the renovations over the summer, which won't take away too much of the time from the academic year when students are largely here.” 

This week, he said, the center met with one of their major funders to discuss some new strategies and look at ways donors can work with other potential donors to raise money. While the center is optimistic that they’ll get the funding, Smail said fundraising takes time. The center started fundraising in February, Smail said, and had almost a third of the necessary funds by the end of June. 

One key aspect of the Re-Envisioning Project, Smail said, is the center’s shifting focus to making it a more comfortable place for students. 

This year’s programming, he said, has shifted focus onto the community, like the creation of queer dialogue spaces for inter-community discussions on national issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community.  

“So hopefully, collectively, with all of that, the renovation and the emphasis in the community, the community will feel a lot more engaged,” Smail said.

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