In preparation for the upcoming renovations of the West Union Building, the Center for LGBT Life will be moving to the Bryan Center by next fall. Under plans released by the Office of Student Affairs earlier this month, the LGBT Center will have significantly less space than it hoped for, particularly for putting on programming and possibly providing an office for a new assistant director. Considering that that the center’s new location in the Bryan Center is essentially permanent—it will not be returning to West Union after renovations—we urge the administration to seriously consider ways of expanding the space, if even only by a few hundred square feet.
The LGBT Center has tremendous importance and impact for LGBT students and the Duke community at large. The Center engages more than 150 students at events such as Fab Friday, remarkable growth considering, as recently as 2007, only 25 students were attending the same event. This rapid expansion demonstrates both an increased demand for and the impressive reach of LGBT programming at Duke. The center’s relocation presents an opportunity to continue this progress in welcoming LGBT students, which is especially important in light of the passage of the discriminatory Amendment One at the state level.
We understand that the administration is put in a tough spot. The Bryan Center faces extreme spatial constraints given many student services migrating from West Union. Architects have to contend with offices for the DukeCard, The Chronicle, Duke Dining, Duke Stores, student conduct and more, in addition to the identity centers and pre-existing dining facilities. Not everyone is going to be perfectly happy.
However, given that the LGBT Center will be housed in its new space for the foreseeable future, the administration has an obligation to equip them as well as they possibly can right now. In October 2011, Larry Moneta commissioned the creation of the LGBT Center Study Group to determine how the University could help the center realize its long-term goals. One of the group’s crucial recommendations was the hiring of an assistant director. A dedicated staff member would allow the center to expand its current offerings. If the administration truly cares about the center’s ability to expand over the next 10 years, it should re-examine the current blueprints for the new center, which does not have space for an assistant director’s office.
Again, a perfect solution is unlikely. For that reason, we do encourage the LGBT Center to use the space it has already been granted—which is still an upgrade in size and location from its current space—innovatively, even as it lobbies for more. The LGBT community should make some concessions, like agreeing to rent out nearby spaces for larger events. The administration should also make concessions, perhaps moving Resource Administration’s payroll specialists from prime Bryan Center real estate.
What remains disappointing is that students once again feel slighted by the lack of transparent communication in the important, albeit complicated, process of beginning West Union renovations. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, thoughtful negotiations between Duke’s LGBT community and the administration can yield a better permanent space for housing one of the University’s most important student centers.