After walking down the outdoor concrete steps that lead into the basement of the Hammond Health Center, one might expect to encounter an environment that is dark and cryptic. However, what I found was an environment filled with incredibly bright colors – and an environment that is perhaps one of the most welcoming on campus.
Lis Maurer, the director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach, and Services, greeted me with a warm smile and I soon found myself chatting with her about her role on campus as if she were an old friend and not someone I’d just met. After our meeting, she gave me a tour of the LGBT Resource Room – a social space filled with resource materials and flyers, a library full of reading material, computers, workspaces, a flat screen TV, and – my favorite – a plate of freshly baked rainbow chip cookies.
Founded in the fall of 2001 after a group of students and faculty recognized the need for additional support for LGBT students, the LGBT Center strives to foster both students’ academic success and personal growth. It also provides opportunities for the greater campus community to learn about LGBT issues and themes.
Maurer enjoys spending time meeting with students, some of whom come to her with concerns or worries, but “many students come to me with happy things,” she says. “A student will stop by and say ‘I don’t have a problem but could I come in and talk to you?’ That’s always fun.” Maurer is also there for the unfortunate occasions when a student is distressed or encounters a crisis such as a biased related incident. In these cases, she is able to educate the student on their options for addressing their situation or reporting an incident.
“Some issues LGBT students face are exactly the same as what everyone else is facing, but sometimes they may have other needs, too,” Maurer states. This is why she has worked with the Office of International Programs to create a brochure filled with tips and things to consider for LGBT students as they prepare to study abroad. She has also worked with the Office of Career Services and the chaplains at the Herman E. and Florence S. Muller Memorial Chapel on campus. The chaplains join forces with Maurer and the LGBT students to host the annual Chocolate in the Chapel event. She says this well-attended event “brings people together across dimensions of diversity and encourages people to find common ground.” Maurer goes on to explain that the event was the result of the religious organizations on campus noticing “that students were shy because they had negative experiences with other religious communities, and they wanted to counter that perception. So we met and came up with the idea of Chocolate in the Chapel to portray how welcoming the chapel is.”
The options for LGBT students who want to practice a religion don’t end there. Maurer says many students come to her when searching for a place of worship and say they would even switch to a different denomination to do so. Maurer then shows them an extensive list of religious congregations in the greater Ithaca community and “the student will ask ‘Which one is the LGBT-accepting one?’ and I’ll say, ‘No, no… they all are.’”
The greater Ithaca community also has an organization known as Out for Health, which focuses on LGBT health issues, in addition to an organization that represents the interests of LGBT elders. Several gay-straight alliances are present in the area’s schools, and groups for children with LGBT parents are also forming. Ithaca’s LGBT Center has also partnered with the Empire State Pride Agenda and the LGBT center at neighboring Cornell University to host events and raise awareness about public policy issues pertaining to the LGBT community.
Many prospective students contact Maurer each year when making their college decision in order to find out what our campus climate is like, and she says that the recognition Ithaca has received as one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses according to the Campus Climate Index is definitely a true representation.
“Often times, faculty or current students will refer a prospective student to my office during a campus visit,” says Maurer. “Their questions are all different – about campus safety, residential life, roommate assignments. We’ve created a FAQ sheet to address some of the most common questions prospective students and their parents have, but we’re always here to answer questions.”
Maurer also meets with heterosexual friends of LGBT students, many of whom are supportive and come to Maurer in the hopes of finding the right ways to support their friends. “I always tell those students, ‘If you’re here, you’re already doing great.’”
“There are lots of people on our campus that want it to be welcoming to everyone,” Maurer says. “Sometimes the efforts they take to get us there are big and public – sometimes they are behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s just saying a kind word, pointing an LGBT student to a resource or a mentor, or noticing that student’s interests and what makes them unique. We are a community of people that, by and large, want to create that campus community.”
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Fuse is a student produced publication about the Ithaca College experience. All content in the print and web versions of Fuse is developed by current Ithaca College students in a breadth of different areas of study.