The Shippensburg University Pride Center opened on Oct. 23 last fall, but many concerns have been raised about the current state of the center and its future, according to LGBTQ+ Concerns Committee Co-Chair Jayleen Galarza.
The committee had always advocated for more inclusive services on campus, so it was a long journey to even get the Pride Center on campus in the first place. However, the recent battle has been staffing the center. It is important to have a safe space, but the space needs to be functional, Galarza said.
After the hate crime committed against the S.A.F.E. office last semester, students were being directed to the Pride Center; however, the graduate assistant Dani Zinn only had so many hours that she was in the office.
“We couldn’t even tell folks, ‘Go to the pride center, someone will be there at any time,’” Galarza said.
Volunteers from the campus community sat in the Pride Center that week to assist students. After that, the LGBTQ+ Concerns Committee advocated for Zinn to have more hours, but she was still not a full-time staff member, Galarza said.
This semester, the Pride Center was having a lot of problems with its budget and resources. The books in the center were predominately donated by the concerns committee, according to Galarza.
“When you go into the Pride Center, it’s lacking. It still doesn’t have the resources you’d expect,” she said.
The committee’s biggest goal this year was advocating for a director position.
“We were assured a position part-time and there was a lot that happened with that that got basically pulled from us,” Galarza said.
The director of the First Generation Student Engagement Office was also supposed to act as the director of the Pride Center, but those plans fell through.
“One thing I’m really proud of with our committee is that we’re so passionate about these issues that we don’t let things go,” Galarza said.
The committee had conversations with key administrators, including President Laurie Carter, who agreed to move forward with a full-time coordinator position. Galarza would love a director for the center, but she said a coordinator is a good start.
The committee has also been pushing for an inclusive bathroom policy and a gender-neutral housing policy. The administration has been open to hearing these policy suggestions.
“I will admit that there was a lack of transparency that was happening — a lack of communication. That didn’t feel good on our end because, to me, silence speaks volumes,” she said. “If you’re not inviting us to the table — inviting us to the conversation — how is this meaningful?”
Galarza is trying to be hopeful that these next steps are going to move the university forward, and the beauty of the committee is being able to keep an eye out and be vigilant, she said.
“I really try and push feedback, because I want this to be a student-run center where the students give me feedback and I try and advocate for whatever they want for the space,” she said.
The number of students who come into the center varies. Sometimes there are no students, but as many as seven students have stopped by in one day, which is a big deal for the center because it is still trying to get its name out, Zinn said.
Students who stop by the center sometimes ask about events, ways to get involved and internships in the LGBT realm. They also come to the center to ask about how to navigate difficult conversations and use the book resources. SU staff members interested in collaborating also stop by the center, according to Zinn.
Zinn is graduating in May, but she plans on applying for the coordinator position.
“Regardless of what the outcome is, I have things that are set for the next person if they’d like to use them,” she said. “I think that whatever is to happen in the future is to be a positive thing. I think this center is going to continue to move forward and become a really great center that’s going to flourish.”
Human communications professor Misty Knight said the Pride Center has dropped on the priority list at the university. When SU student Trent Bauer was featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in October of 2017, it was popular and exciting for the SU community to support the Pride Center, she said.
“Since then, it’s sort of been set aside for things that deem to be more urgent,” Knight said.
Priority went to the director of the First Generation Student Engagement Office, and as Galarza also said, that position stood as the director of the Pride Center. However, the administration said there was not enough funding for it to be a dual position, according to Knight.
“[Zinn] has been fantastic, and she’s doing everything she can with what limited resources she has,” Knight said. “I have heard nothing but good things about her, but at some point she’s gonna leave — she’s a student — she’s going to graduate.”
The Pride Center deserves to have someone with a professional background or training in working with the LGBT community running the center, Knight said. She compared the Pride Center to other groups and centers on campus, such as the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Women’s Center.
“It’s way past time to see that for our Pride Center,” she said.
The concern as to why the priority of the Pride Center keeps dropping is something that has been brought up to the administration, according to Knight.
“What is the reason?” she asked. “If it’s funding, well, we’re hiring in other positions, so why isn’t this the priority?”
A&E Editor Jonathan Bergmueller contributed to this report.