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‘An intimate space’: Duke's Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity offers warmth, security

<p>CSGD offers one-on-one coffee chats with a professional or student staff member to provide LGBTQ+ people with a safe place to talk or vent.&nbsp;</p>

CSGD offers one-on-one coffee chats with a professional or student staff member to provide LGBTQ+ people with a safe place to talk or vent. 

This is part one in a series profiling the identity centers at Duke, highlighting the work they do and their roles on campus. Check back for more articles in coming weeks.

When considering ideas for what event to hold for the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity’s second Kickback Friday of the year on Sept. 9, student programming assistant Cat, a junior, knew they wanted to develop a “warm” atmosphere. 

The answer: pillows and Insomnia Cookies. 

On Friday, around 30 students sewed together patterned fabrics and stuffed them to create comfortable decorations for their dorm rooms. It was a chance for members of the Duke community to connect with others in the CSGD’s space within the Bryan Center, where they shared that feeling of warmth Cat, who requested to be identified only by first name due to safety concerns, noticed the first time they arrived at the CSGD last year. 

For Cat, the CSGD’s community has been “really reaffirming” but also it gave them “security to know who to reach out to [for help and support].” 

The CSGD’s goal is to “create an inclusive climate for students, staff, faculty, and alumnx with marginalized sexual orientations, romantic orientations, gender identities and gender expressions through education, advocacy, support, mentoring, academic engagement and providing space,” according to its website

Interim Director for the CSGD Angel Collie says that one of the most rewarding parts of his job has been seeing students come out of their shells and find a network they can connect with when they enter the space. 

The CSGD offers more than just Kickback Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Most of the time, the Center is open to use as a social or study space with board games and video games. 

For those who are uncomfortable with the CSGD’s visibility, students can enter through the partner suite next door. This more discreet alternate entrance is located in the director's office. For those who want to reach out but aren’t ready to approach a large group, coffee chats are offered with staff members like Collie. These chats can be in a private or public space. 

The CSGD is open to LGBTQ+ members and accomplices, a term Collie prefers over the commonly-used term “allies.” The Center also holds identity-specific group sessions that are only open to those considering specific identities, granting them a chance to talk with people going through similar experiences. For example, queer and trans people of color groups are open to members of that identity group, as well as those questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. 

First-year Courtney Yribarren was excited to attend the pillow-making event because it allowed her a creative outlet and a chance to meet people in a comforting space. From her experience, the staff and people at the CSGD have been nothing but welcoming, which Yribarren feels is important to reclaim pride and fight off any stigma around the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. 

“Whatever you're struggling with or whatever you need to talk about, I think this is such a light space which lets you open up,” Yribarren said. “I think that it’s such an intimate space, and I'm just excited to experience it more and have some fun.”

Space is an important part of the Center’s usage and meaning since this identity center occupies the largest room in the Bryan Center among the University’s identity and culture spaces. For Cat, walking into the Bryan Center and seeing the CSGD’s large window shows that the University is proud to hold that space and is not trying to hide it. 

“I love it more than anything in the world,” Collie said of seeing the CSGD full of life. He added, “I wanted to be hanging out with students because it gives me so much hope.”

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