November 13, 2012

A Room With A View

I figured I would take a moment to talk about working with The Center for LGBT Life Consulting Group.  This group was tasked with looking at the impact of and opportunities arising from relocating the LGBT Center; a move resulting from the construction and eventual re-purposing of its current home in the West Union. For more information on the renovations, check out the "West Union Precinct Renovation" page - it is a massive project with quite a few moving parts and a vision that greatly increases the usability of current spaces while building new ones. I am definitely excited to see the Pavilion and witness its evolution from hole-in-the ground, to dining facility, to flexible programmable student space.

What I am most looking forward to seeing, however, is the new Center for LGBT Life. First, because I've had a better chance to learn what the current Center does and how well, or poorly, it is configured to provide for the Duke community. And second, because the new Center design reflects well the needs and the hopes of many of the people our consulting group contacted to put together a brief for the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and their team. When I last wrote...well, I guess when I last wrote I was imploring people to help rob Borja to pay The Trevor Project  - and you can still help!

But the time before that, I was talking about space. Specifically, about the difference between the proposed space for the Center and what several of us on the task force felt was needed. Not long after, the BDU presented a refined set of changes which, if made, would bring the design to or very close to a place where it would satisfy the primary requirements of the different constituents we identified as a committee. And not long after that, Dr. Moneta presented a new design which had completely or very nearly satisfied all those requirements.  The BDU executive board took the new proposal to the membership and, with certain expectations about allowing the LGBT Center staff to work with the architect to make the floor plan as useful as possible, endorsed the plan.

The system worked.  At a place like Duke, there will always be more ideas than resources to make them into a reality; there will be more areas of study than we can possibly pursue; and there will always be more demands for space than we can satisfy.  The question is how to appropriately confer resources - space, funding, staffing, etc - to the many different functions of the university.  And given the complexity of the question, there will just about never be an easy answer.  Would I have been happier with more space?  Sure - but I also recognize the dominoes that begin to fall with each square foot that is moved from one place to another.  Would the Center be able to do with less?  Sure - but at the high cost of lost opportunity for Duke to be a national and international leader in LGBT affairs and lost opportunity to support a growing number of our students through their journey.

Given that, where I think I fall is "temporary contentment."  I see this as a very positive move for the Center and for its missions, and I believe it represents a strong commitment by the university in terms of placing the Center in a highly visible location; the latter, while also taking steps to ensure that people who want more privacy getting to the Center or speaking with staff have a more discreet way of arriving.  Once the Program Coordinator position is filled - and assuming the Assistant Director position is approved and filled - the Center as a whole will be at a pretty good place in terms of fulfilling current obligations and services.  And the Bryan Center - with several gender-neutral restrooms added - will be a more welcoming home for all our students, staff, and guests.

The whole reason I use the word "temporary," then, is that - having seen the incredible growth of the Center's programming and active constituency, I know that with the greater resources afforded by the new Center's layout and location that Dr. Long and the Center's staff and volunteers will be able to begin developing programming and delivering services that, at present, can't even get off the ground due to logistical or temporal constraints.  As those evolve, it will be up to us as a community to keep working with the university to make sure it allocates resources accordingly.

It was a real privilege to serve on the Consulting Group - to meet students, faculty, and staff from across the university I otherwise would never have known - and to work with them on something we all find so very important.  It is also a continuing joy to work at a university that makes hard choices that support its students, especially those who may not feel as supported elsewhere.  Meanwhile, until construction begins, my temporary contentment and I can sometimes be found with a take-out box from Panda or a hot dog from JB's, sitting on the Bryan Center side porch, looking out into the garden and up at the Chapel, and enjoying the fact that soon - very soon - the Center for LGBT Life will have a room with that view...

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