For creative writing major Cameron Bolling ’20 of Merrimack, N.H., a room is more than just four walls and a door. It is a visible reminder of what the people who congregate there can share inside, and it can be a marker of an institution’s values. While many large public universities have an LGBTQ+ resource center, they are less common at smaller colleges like Colby-Sawyer. When Bolling and his friends were able to establish the LGBTQ+ Resource Center in Colgate Hall, the heart of campus, it was a significant accomplishment. After a year of planning, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center opened Friday, March 22.
“When someone looks at Colby-Sawyer and asks how dedicated and accepting we are toward LGBTQ+ students, here’s your answer,” Bolling said. “This is a huge example of us as a college living up to our ideals.”
The resource center builds upon Colby-Sawyer’s long-standing commitment to its LGBTQ+ community members. Other recent efforts include revamping the Safe Zones program and a series of workshops and conversations led by Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Education Kathleen Farrell and the late Jeanine Ruhsam, adjunct faculty in Humanities, that promoted better understanding of LGBTQ+ terminology and relevant issues. The college also implemented new policies and procedures to support transgender and gender expansive community members.
What makes the addition of the resource center so special is that it was student driven.
“The LGBTQ Resource Center was an entirely student-driven project,” Professor Farrell said. “They recognized the need, put together an action plan, negotiated with administration, advocated for their vision, and created a space to serve the campus.”
The resource center houses a meeting room as well as a collection of books, films and other materials that range in focus from fiction that includes LGBTQ+ representation to LGBTQ+ history. Pride flags representing major sexual orientations and gender identities decorate the space. Students, faculty and staff have 24/7 access and can check out resources. Soon, movie nights featuring films from the collection will be scheduled. Clubs are also welcome to reserve the space for meetings.
“Often, resources about LGBTQ+ topics are difficult to find or are outdated,” Bolling said. “We want to help educate allies and people in the community who have questions. Now there is a physical, dedicated space to them.”
From Shelf to Shared Space
The LGBTQ+ Resource Center grew from a modest idea. Bolling was a first-year student and a member of Pride, Colby-Sawyer’s LGBTQ+ student organization, when the officers discussed creating a small shelf of LGBTQ+ books on campus. That idea never advanced, but Bolling remembered it last year while serving as Pride’s vice president. He reached out to friends in Pride as well as Word Order, the college’s literary club, to recruit individuals interested in establishing a resource center.
In addition to Bolling, the project’s leaders were Ashley Cheviot ’20 of Hancock, N.H.; Allison Heinz '19 of Sheldonville, Mass.; Lydia Schoonmaker ’19 of New London, N.H.; Rebecca Tham '19; Kate Tremblay ’19 of Simsbury, Conn.; Celena Salvo ’21 of Hammonton, N.J.; and Sage Lincoln ’19 of Center Tuftonboro, N.H.
They reached out to Professor Farrell and used her sabbatical research on Colby-Sawyer’s campus climate to advocate for the resource center – Professor Farrell had found that though most LGBTQ+ students described Colby-Sawyer as a welcoming community, they also felt the campus needed more education on related issues.
This fall, the student organizers approached the Student Government Association (SGA) to secure the support of the student body. SGA voted unanimously to refer the project to senior leadership. Following that meeting, the students started surveying potential locations on campus with Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students Robin Davis.
“That was a big moment,” Tham said. “We had a backup plan in case SGA wasn’t open to the idea, but everyone was really supportive. We realized, ‘Okay, this is actually going to happen.’”
“I am thrilled that we are able to provide a space where students, faculty and staff can meet, share and discuss issues and stories related to LGBTQ+ identity, as well as provide a space for those who are exploring their own identity,” Vice President Davis said.
In addition to connecting the students with senior administrators, the SGA presentation piqued the interest of Anna Masters ’20, a resident of Keene, N.H., and vice president of her class, who used her position as co-president of the CSC Players to raise funds for the project during the 2018 SNAFU festival.
After picking the location, Facilities helped furnish the room. Tham’s father donated the projector.
Professor Farrell, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences & Education Meg Pilling and Bolling oversee the space for now, but Bolling’s responsibility will be passed to another student when he graduates. Bolling is excited for students to know that Colby-Sawyer has this resource.
“The main goal of the space is education,” he said. “I think its establishment is bigger than we’ve even recognized yet.”