NUBiLAGA faces roadblocks to creating ‘safe space’

The Northeastern University Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Association (NUBiLAGA) office on the second floor of the Curry Student Center has a comfortable, inviting feel to those who step in for a visit. That is, until they turn around and realize the lack of privacy provided by the glass wall looking out into the student center.

For this reason, members of the group have been working toward establishing a “Safe Space,” or resource center, for Northeastern’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

NUBiLAGA first began working toward a center last year, when the proposal was brought forward by former co-chair Ashley Smith. It is now being fronted by co-chair Hillary Boone.

The resource would provide a location where students could access books, films and counseling, Boone said, adding that such centers exist at other area colleges, like Tufts University.

“It would be an enclosed space where students could find kids who accept them and understand what they’re going through,” Boone said.

If created, the center would be larger and more accessible than the current NUBiLAGA office, which requires a password for entry. It could also offer students privacy, said Peter Karpathakis, NUBiLAGA co-chair.

“Any student that’s in there at the time will have their privacy,” said Karpathakis. “Unlike with the current office that we have. With the glass, you can see right in.”

NUBiLAGA has encountered many difficulties establishing the center, and one of the main challenges is finding a space.

“I know that last year we were promised a resource center verbally in the Northeastern University Health and Counseling Center. And then when it was actually set up, we didn’t have the space,” Boone said.

Rogan O’Handley, Student Government Association (SGA) vice president for student services, said the plans to put the safe space in the health center were overlooked during the process of combining Lane Health Center and the Center for Counseling and Student Development.

“The SGA worked with NUBiLAGA for office space after the renovation in the Northeastern Health and Counseling Center,” O’Handley said. “But in the chaos of the renovation, the ideal space got lost.”

Members of NUBiLAGA said they prefer the Curry Student Center as a location for the resource center.

“Within the Curry Student Center would be the most ideal just because it’s the student center,” Karpathakis said. “Just by the sheer fact that it’s there for the students.”

NUBiLAGA has also faced difficulty obtaining resources for the center. A shortage of money has limited the growth of their library, which is not readily available for people to use reliably, said Robert Gable, NUBiLAGA’s Web master.

“In order to get all the books [we want] that aren’t in the library, we need a little bit over $200. So it’s not that much money,” Karpathakis said. “I think that’s why [Boone] and Kyle [Piers], our treasurer, are going to talk to the Budget Review Committee again just to see if they can get a little bit more money.”

NUBiLAGA approached the Budget Review Committee (BRC) to request funding for 27 resource books at the BRC’s Jan. 26 meeting, but their request for $408.25 was met with questions and apprehension.

After reviewing the list of books NUBiLAGA provided to the committee, the BRC questioned why the organization needed copies of books that were already available in Snell Library.

Though NUBiLAGA members stressed the issues of confidentiality and comfort they feel having copies of the books in a safe space – like their office – would give club members, the BRC still chose to deny a portion of the funding in its Feb. 2 meeting.

Instead of the $408.25 originally requested for the specific books, which NUBiLAGA’s members chose on a group trip to a local bookstore, the BRC awarded the organization $170 for the 10 books on NUBiLAGA’s list not already available on campus.

Though the BRC didn’t fund NUBiLAGA the entire amount, BRC Chair Billy Haddad said the committee supports the group, and he hopes the university will fund NUBiLAGA’s efforts to develop a safe space.

“I think the university could look and say the students are putting money toward NUBiLAGA’s cause,” Haddad said. “[The students] are supporting them and I hope the university would as well.”

Despite some difficulties getting funding from the BRC, SGA has been working with the group to help create the center. Boone said O’Handley has been “a great help.”

O’Handley, along with Susan Dye, SGA assistant vice president for student services, attended NUBiLAGA meetings last semester to talk to members and find out more about the situation.

“Student groups often have difficulties with an innovative idea and how to establish it at the university. We offer guidance and a concrete method for going about it,” O’Handley said. “We work with them to establish what has to be done.”

President Richard Freeland and Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Klotzbier are also involved in the process. They met with O’Handley Friday to discuss the proposal for the resource center, and are currently working to create a university task force to assess the need, available space and to help develop the center.

In the meantime, Boone said she just hopes administrators understand the need for a center.

“I feel like it’s such an important thing for our campus to have,” Boone said. “Students would have access to the resources and not feel that by coming to us they’re coming out to the entire community.”

– Staff Writer Stephanie Peters contributed to this report

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