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Dean of Harvard College Evelynn M. Hammonds announced at a community meeting Wednesday night the development of new resources for BGLTQ students at Harvard, including the establishment of a full-time staff person and campus space dedicated to the BGLTQ community.
“As a historian I want to say that the working group has made history and will make Harvard a better place for BGLTQ students going forward into the future,” Hammonds said, noting that the change will benefit Harvard as a whole.
The decision was based on recommendations made by the BGLTQ Working Group, convened by Hammonds in October to assess BGLTQ experiences and needs at the College.
At the same event, Assistant Dean of Student Life Susan B. Marine, who chaired the working group, described its evaluation process and conclusions about the lack of centralized and visible resources for BGLTQ students.
Over several months, members of the working group hosted open forums and conducted a campus-wide survey completed by more than 400 respondents. The working group also examined the resources of 15 peer institutions with highly ranked BGLTQ resources, including Dartmouth, Princeton, and Yale.
According to Marine, the working group found that Harvard offers a generally positive atmosphere for BGLTQ students, as evidenced by the 75 percent of respondents who felt that Harvard was “a good place to be openly BGLTQ.”
However, Marine added that students sometimes find resources difficult to navigate. Students who are not out, are questioning their sexuality, or identify as bisexual have confronted additional challenges in finding resources, the working group found.
“Better, more coordinated, and more visible support is vital for those folks,” Marine said.
Sara Kimmel, a psychologist at University Health Services and director of the College’s residential BGLTS tutors, summarized the working group’s recommendations at Wednesday’s meeting.
The first and second recommendations called for a full-time staff director of BGLTQ student life and the formation of a College-wide BGLTQ Advisory Committee, which will continue dialogue about BGLTQ student needs.
The working group further recommended increased efforts to coordinate physical and mental health resources for BGLTQ students and the creation of a centralized website with information relevant to the BGLTQ community.
“These implementations will expand the web of people students can know and identify as resources to them,” Kimmel said, noting that in the past students have been unsure whom to talk to about sexuality-related concerns.
A final key recommendation is that the College review courses engaging with BGLTQ issues.
Though Kimmel emphasized the important role of the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in offering coursework on these topics, she said that the working group agreed that issues of sexuality and identity ought to be addressed on a broader basis.
Hammonds, who received the recommendations in late March, announced that the new BGLTQ space will be housed on the lower level of Boylston Hall, occupying a lounge directly across from the WGS Committee.
According to Hammonds, this will replace the student-staffed Queer Resource Center in the Thayer basement, and preparations for renovation will begin this summer.
Hammonds said that a national search for the new staff person will begin immediately. She expressed hope that someone will be hired by January, but added that finding the right person will take precedence over that deadline.
The ideal candidate would be attentive to how an individual’s different experiences intersect to influence their identity—which Hammonds termed “a deep awareness of issues of intersectionality”—as well as having experience working with BGLTQ student communities and teaching credentials, Associate Dean and Senior Adviser to the Dean of the College Paul J.McLoughlin II added.
Co-Chair of Harvard Queer Students and Allies Marco Chan ’11, who served on the working group, said that student input must remain central to the decision-making process.
“As a graduating senior, I want to ensure that there will be continued accountability and transparency in all the next steps,” said Chan, who added that the creation of a space came as a surprise to many BGLTQ students.
“The community that these resources are helping needs to shape the outcome.”
In commending the College’s changes to benefit the BGLTQ community, QSA Co-Chair Emma Q. Wang ’12, who also participated in the working group, noted that the recommendations extend to all members of the Harvard community, including those who do not identify as BGLTQ.
“This is about changing the entire campus culture to make Harvard a place that affirms its students regardless of sexuality or gender identity,” Wang said.
—Julie M. Zauzmer contributed to the reporting of this article.
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