Student group Blue Devils United is fighting for more space for the Center for LGBT Life’s new location, claiming that current plans do not meet the expanded needs of the LGBT community.
When it was first announced in April that the LGBT Center would move permanently to the Bryan Center, representatives of the LGBT community believed that they would get at least half of the current University Center Activities and Events space. But the latest blueprints—dated August 16—show that more than half of the space is allocated for the Office of Student Affairs, and the space for the LGBT Center does not reflect the desires outlined by an LGBT Study Group, which was involved in the original planning. According to the blueprints, the new LGBT space is expected to be 3,275 sq.-ft.—about 500 sq.-ft. larger than the current center—and Student Affairs will be 5,038 sq.-ft.
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said in an interview that plans are still flexible. Both the center and the Student Affairs office are moving summer 2013 due to the upcoming West Union Building renovations.
“We’re still reviewing all the space options for the center,” Moneta wrote in an email Saturday.
He added that the new center sufficiently meets the community’s needs.
“[The space] is pretty spectacular. It’s in an ideal location, and it addresses their needs—separate meeting rooms, student offices, a library and programming space,” Moneta said.
After DSG made a resolution to support BDU in seeking more space for the new center, representatives from both groups met with Moneta this past Wednesday.
“What we ask Moneta to do is to remove some of the administrative space and make it more of a student space,” said BDU President Denzell Faison, a junior. “We feel that space in the Bryan Center should be used for student use and not for administrative purposes.”
In addition to receiving a smaller space than expected, Faison noted that the new center does not include an office for an assistant director, and the programming space is not much bigger than the space in the current center—going against a report submitted by the LGBT Study Group at the beginning of the planning process.
Moneta said he hopes revised plans will include an office for an assistant director.
The LGBT Study Group, which included undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni, compiled a report for Moneta about the groups’ needs in the new space. Through extensive research and surveys, the group outlined the LGBT community’s requests. Participants wanted a more visible location, increased programming space, a discreet entrance for students uncomfortable coming into the center and an office for an assistant director, Faison said.
“We outlined in our report that we have grown substantially from the original four students to hundreds of students,” he added. “Our [current] space has become insufficient.”
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The new space does not reflect the growth of the LGBT community at Duke and their programming needs expressed in the report, said study group member Michael Gustafson, associate professor of the practice of electrical and computer engineering.
“The part of all this that shocks me is the number of square feet going into the Bryan Center for student life that have nothing to do with students,” Gustafson said. “Payroll specialists and development are important, but they should not be in the center of the student center.”
Moneta said the study group’s ideas were included when creating the new center. He added that the space improves on the current location, with separate meeting rooms, programming space, student offices and an alternate entrance.
“The student voice was reflected in the development of the narrative that ultimately influenced the architect’s proposed layout of the space,” Moneta said.
After submitting the report this past Spring, members did not receive any updates or information about the process from Moneta’s office until receiving the most recent report this Fall, Faison said. And when BDU and DSG met with him Wednesday, the students’ understanding was that nothing could be done at this point, he added.
“Moneta wasn’t even willing to listen to our concerns. His mind was already made up,” Faison said.
The decision to reduce programming space in the new center sends a strong message of indifference to the needs of the LGBT community, said Kyle Knight, Trinity ’08, president of the LGBT Alumni Network.
“In the conversations I have had with LGBT alumni who graduated in the ’60s through the present, one theme tends to surface rather often: a general distrust of the Duke administration’s dedication to the LGBT community on campus,” Knight wrote in an email Friday.
He also noted that these plans could affect LGBT alumni donations to the University.
“I would hope alumni interest—substantive and financial—has sent a strong signal to the University that we take decisions such as this one seriously,” Knight added.
With the support of alumni, DSG and the LGBT community, BDU plans to appeal to President Richard Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange next, Faison said.
“Fundamentally, we believe we need more space,” he added. “What we ask Moneta to do is to remove some of the administrative space and make it more of a student space.”