College Opens BGLTQ Office

Members and supporters of the bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer community gathered in Fong Auditorium on Tuesday to recognize the grand opening of the new Office of BGLTQ Student Life.

The opening has been anticipated for almost a year, since Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds announced the creation of the office and lounge space in the basement of Boylston Hall last spring. Her announcement came in response to recommendations from the BGLTQ Working Group and student protests for a more visible BGLTQ-specific space than the Queer Resource Center in the Thayer basement.

That spring, she also announced the establishment of a director of BGLTQ student life—a position that has yet to be filled after Lee Forest turned it down in October.

Outgoing Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson and Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus member Rhonda Wittels ’79 welcomed attendees to the grand opening, commenting on the significance and the hard work put into the creation of the office.

Nelson and Wittels’ remarks were followed by a presentation of letters  from “The Secret Court of 1920” by Lowell House co-Masters Dorothy A. Austin and Diana L. Eck. The “Secret Court”—uncovered by a Crimson editor in 2002—expelled seven Harvard students and affiliates for perceived homosexuality.

Austin and Eck—who read from correspondence between a condemned student, his mother, and the deans—said they wanted to remind attendees of Harvard’s history with the BGLTQ community and how far the University has come.

“As we talk about gay and lesbian students and teachers in the university, this is a sobering moment to remember that time. It was only 90 years ago,” Eck said.

Reverend Jamie Washington, president of an educational and religious consulting group, delivered the evening’s keynote address. During his presentation, he outlined his “10 Tips” for confronting the issues facing the BGLTQ community, which include implementing new institutional politics, providing more campus services, and engaging in conversations about the complexities of identity.

“There are no quick fixes to improving LGBTQ resources, so we do not expect the space to answer everything,” Washington said.

The opening of an office specifically for BGLTQ students was especially personal for Jonas Q. Wang ’12, who was one of three students involved in the BGLTQ Working Group. As former QSA co-chair, Wang said he was initially disappointed with Harvard’s resources for BGLTQ students.

“Now being a senior, seeing this happen and knowing students in all future years are going to walk on a campus with amazing institutional support is a vast change and I am really happy for all of this,” Wang said.

The majority of the attendees at the inauguration of the office were either administrators or student leaders from BGLTQ related groups. Girlspot co-chair Edith C. Benavides ’14, one about a dozen students at the event, said she attended because she hopes to be a part of the development and vision of the office in the forthcoming years.

Though the new office is a welcome social space for students, the Queer Resource Center will continue to remain open and there are no plans to close it any time soon, Assistant Dean of Student Life Emelyn A. dela Peña said.

Currently, Divinity School student Emily J. Miller serves as the interim coordinator of BGLTQ Student Life. The Director position remains vacant after Forest, hired by the College in September, turned down the position before she was set to begin.

According to dela Peña, the search committee is in the process of reviewing candidates for the position and plans to make an appointment by this summer. For now, dela Peña said she hopes students can take advantage of the new space.

“I really hope it becomes a place where people can come together as a community to support one another,” she said.

­—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at melanieguzman@college.harvard.edu.

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