March 19, 2011

Visibility Matters

When I came to Duke, I immediately noticed the numerous rainbow flags that hung outside dorm windows. The first thing I thought of when I saw these flags was my own sign of visibility: the rainbow button pinned onto my backpack (it says, in bold, “Visibility Matters”). I received this pin while walking to class one day [the LGBTQ Center and GLBTSA (the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight alliance of UNC-Chapel Hill) were promoting themselves by handing out free stuff]. When I came to Carolina, I was surprised to see how much the university administration and students did to make the campus safe and affirming of all identities. With this pin, I was explicitly identifying myself as an individual supportive of the LGBTQ community. The flags at Duke have the same effect—they explicitly identify allies and those connected to the LGBTQ community, all the while building a culture of acceptance at Duke.

With this in mind, I think it’s important to reflect upon this whole idea of visibility on a college campus. Visibility is, of course, important because it helps get the message of the LGBTQ community into the public and helps break down certain negative stereotypes associated with the community. Visibility can also make people who are not entirely accepting of their own sexual identity more comfortable in their own skin. I like how both Duke and UNC take active steps in building visibility on campus. There is a certain problem, however, that I would like to address in regards to visibility on both campuses:

Both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill boast a center for LGBTQ life on campus: at UNC, we have the LGBTQ Center; at Duke, the Center for LGBT Life. One similarity between the two universities is the location of the centers—at UNC, the center is located on South Campus in a small office on the second floor of the student administrative building; at Duke, the center is located downstairs of the plaza, underneath The Loop. The locations of both centers are similar because they are, in my opinion, discreet.

I can tell you that, as a Carolina student, you can go months and months without even passing the building that our LGBTQ center is located. Even if you enter the building, you have to take the arduous journey in climbing the staircase to the second floor. Then, you have to roam the long hallway in search of a small office, mostly identifiable due to the bright rainbow that decorates the door window. Many of my friends who identity as LGBTQ have not visited the LGBTQ Center, and some of my heterosexual friends have no idea where it is even located.

Now that I am at Duke, I find that the Center for LGBT Life is also discreet. It may not be as bad of a location as the UNC center, but it is clearly not visible unless one is actively searching for it. I am not trying to be a hater, but I do think it is important to have more accessible and visible centers for LGBT life on both campuses. A center that is discreet or inaccessible to the average student on both campuses builds an idea to students that LGBT issues are only for those involved in LGBT life on campus. Everyone is involved in the lives of their peers, and it is important to make “visibility” a term that is important to both those involved in the LGBT community, and those who are not.

Visibility is so important, so kudos to both Duke and UNC students for taking measures in ensuring that the LGBTQ communities within both campuses are, for lack of better words, out and proud. Still, we attend two colleges where LGBTQ issues are not always on people’s minds, and having a physical location that is visible to all types of students, regardless of their sexuality, builds upon the notion that the LGBTQ movement is one that is shared.

In the meantime, I think it's time I get me a rainbow flag to hang outside my own dorm window. You never know how even the smallest things (like a rainbow button!) can affect a person's thinking--

Until my next post, be amazed and be amazing, while cultivating pluralism along the way—

Yours truly,
A Tar Devil


  1. Love this!

    Although I hear rumors that Duke's *may* be moving to the BC.

    I kind of love the space that the Center has at Duke though. It's sooo spacious and lovely.

  2. As someone who identifies as LGBT, I can understand where you're coming from. But I don't know why the LGBT community is more deserving of "visible" space when there are plenty of cultural organizations, greek groups, and other student organizations jockeying for the same space. I am a member of the executive board of a cultural organization, and I can tell you that we and other cultural/race organizations have been asking for "visible" space for decades. We haven't gotten it. Why should the LGBT Center? I don't want to sound bitter; I am genuinely curious to hear what people think. Space on campus is limited. Many cultural/race groups feel like they need/deserve visibility, too.

  3. To further support Anon 10:12, did you the know that the Buddhists and Muslims have to share a "prayer room" in the basement of the Bryan center? I think that's kind of lame.

    I wouldn't say the Duke LGBT Center is discreet. I would've found it before I would've found the Mary Lou Center for Black Culture or the Episcopal Center (other groups I identify as). In fact, the Episcopal Center is so out of the way that I've never visited. And the Mary Lou is in the same building as the LGBT Center, but up two flights of stairs and I would've never even thought to have ventured up there unless someone told me it was up there. Now, the Center isn't like the Freeman Center or anything, but it's certainly not bad off.

    Anyways, I support visibility, but as mentioned above, there are other minority groups that I think are, visibly, in a worse position than the LGBT Center.