The SGA unanimously passed a resolution to send a formal letter of recommendation to the Vice President of Student Affairs for the creation of an LGBTQ+ Cultural Center.
Prior to voting on the legislation, Senator Bill Cody, one of the sponsors and creators of this resolution, spoke to his fellow senators to determine how this bill would fare.
“I wanted to get a feel for the climate before I presented and most of [the senators] agreed that this a good thing. This group is being overlooked,” Cody said.
The resolution argues that APSU is a culturally diverse community as evidenced by the number of cultural centers on campus, and the one key culture missing is the LGBTQ+ Community.
It also states that a center could lead to more students choosing APSU as their university of choice.
“If you build it, they will come,” Vice President of the GSA Jaden Donovan said. “If you build a cultural center for us, we’re going to come. I came to this school because they followed [the] Obama Era Title IX.”
Title IX guarantees that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Obama issued guidance clarifying Title IX for LGBTQ+ students.
“It shouldn’t be about ‘We want more queer people to come to APSU,’ it should be, ‘Hey, we’re a great campus for queer students. You will be welcomed here,’” Donovan said.
The resolution also states how sexual orientation, gender identity and expression are all protected under APSU’s discrimination policy and how this center would allow for that protection.
“Why not have a center where they have a safe place, but it’s still open to everybody? A place where they can be themselves,” Cody said.
Cody says the idea was brought to him by individual students as well as the GSA while he was campaigning.
The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, is a long-standing institution at APSU.
“In 2019, it is officially forty years that we’ve been allowed to have the GSA,” Donovan said. “A center would show that we’re not only tolerated on campus but also, we’re accepted and welcome.”
Cody, both a veteran and non-traditional student, was very familiar with the many cultural centers on campus, and when the idea was presented to him, understood how the unique challenges of a particular culture required the resources only a center could offer.
“There’s only so much GSA can do meeting once a week and all being volunteers. But having a center and somebody who’s paid to be on staff, five days a week, having those resources, it just makes everything more accessible,” Activist Chair for the GSA Dae Iddings said.
Cody also says he was so supportive of the idea in part due to his Christian values.
“My bible tells me to love my neighbor and I think that means to love our fellow man, and these people are my fellow man,” Cody said.
Cody said the resolution was created because something was missing from campus; something that is key to the protection and support of LGBTQ+ students.
“I think acceptance comes from interaction. Interaction is what’s missing,” Cody said. “The LGBTQ+ Community doesn’t have a place for interaction.”
Donovan explained there are unique challenges to being queer, such as mental health and identity issues like questioning one’s gender and sexuality.
These issues are not something that is addressed in other cultural centers, but Donovan believes they can be if the LGBTQ+ get their own cultural center.
“Hopefully this center offers lots of education on gender and sexuality. A place where people feel safe to discuss and explore sexuality and gender and to build this sense of community,” Iddings said.
This center, though well supported, as evidenced by its unanimous decision, is not, however, a guarantee. It is only a recommendation.
When student senators pass legislation, it does not necessarily promise that the university can or will enact what they are proposing.
Sometimes this means what they are proposing will not happen in a timely manner.
Sometimes this means it will not happen at all.
“It’s in the school’s hands where this goes. There are issues they have to deal with, but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m saying, ‘This is a need. It’s up to you all to fulfill the need,’” Cody said.
The two biggest issues facing the establishment of an LGBTQ+ Cultural Center right now, according to Gregory Singleton, the Interim Vice President of Student Affairs, are location and cost.
With the Military Student Center being moved out of the UC there is now a place open which could serve as a possible site for the new center.
However, it would have to go through the Space Allocation Committee to be approved first, and the cost of funding would still be an issue.
Singleton explained that to hire a full-time center coordinator would most likely cost, based on the cost of the most recently added cultural center, the ANTS Center, approximately $67,000 dollars.
Then, there would be another $25-35,000 dollars in operational funds.
It costs roughly $100,000 dollars a year to have an operational center.
Then, even with the funding, the Board of Trustees would still have to approve the creation of a new center, and the new Vice President of Student Affairs would have to approve it as well.
Singleton reminded students that he is only the Interim Vice President and that though he is supportive of the resolution it will inevitably be up to whoever is elected as the new Vice President of Student Affairs to decide how to proceed.
An open forum will be held for each of the five candidates interviewing for the position.
All members of the APSU community are encouraged to attend. Singleton urged students who are passionate about the center to question the candidates about their stance on the matter.
Then, after gaining the support of the vice president, the matter would still need to be discussed with President White whom Singleton says he will speak with Wed. Nov. 14.
Despite the obstacles, Singleton said, “I have a strong commitment to make sure we do everything we can do to enact the resolution that student government passed. I’m very much in support of it. One-hundred percent.”
When asked what students can do to support the creation of this center, Singleton said they must demonstrate a need.
“If we can make it happen eventually, make sure we have students who are supportive, who are going to feel empowered to utilize the space,” Singleton said.
LGBTQ+ students and allies have expressed that they are supportive and ready for a place like this to exist at APSU.
“It would give us an actual sense of belonging in this university to have our own place that’s designated to us,” Donovan said.
Many, like Cody, also believe that the center would bring some much-needed awareness to a community that’s long been a part of APSU.
“It’s been around. They’ve been here. Why are they being overlooked?” Cody said. “Forty years ago, is one thing. I think the country has come to a point of more acceptance. I think it’s time Austin Peay becomes a leader in that acceptance.”