The posters, games and stuffed animals that once adorned Delta College’s Pride Center are sitting in a storage unit, with Pride Club members awaiting direction as to when the items will be displayed again.
A more sterile setting has been in place in recent weeks, after members of the campus club were asked to remove decorations from the center.
That’s not the way it should be, said Delta Pride Club Advisor Lisa Perez.
“The purpose of the Pride Center is to provide peer support and a safe environment for LGBT students to be their authentic selves,” said Perez. “This is a group of students who are basically invisible on campus. This is a time in their lives when [they] need each other.”
While Delta’s Pride Club has been in existence for nearly a decade, the Pride Center has only been around for roughly five years.
After the establishment of “Safe Zones” at Delta — areas staffed by individuals trained to help those in the LGBT community who are in distress—a student-driven plea was made to Delta’s administration to add a permanent “Safe Space” on campus.
The original location for the Pride Center was in the Cunningham building.
It was relocated to the Holt building when Cunningham was torn down, then briefly to Budd before winding up in its current location in Shima 108.
Until recently the center was maintained and run by the Pride Club.
Funding, furnishings and resources were paid for and provided by the club and its executive board.
Now, however, the club has been asked to relinquish oversight of the center, ostensibly to Director of Student Activities, Aja Butler.
In lieu of an official director of the center, the administration has created the post of Student Support Program Specialist.
That position is currently being held by Sam Allen, who reports to Butler.
The position is part-time, however, which means that the center closes early in the afternoon on most days.
As a result the Pride Club has found itself scrambling for meeting places and having to settle for locations that are not necessarily “Safe Zones,” let alone “Safe Spaces.”
According to Alexis Arenz, Assistant Program Director for University of Pacific’s Pride Center, a dedicated Safe Space is a safeguard against unwanted attention. “Just because some place has a ‘Safe Zone’ sticker it doesn’t mean that it’s a ‘Safe Space’,” said Arenz, noting that sensitive conversations can sometimes be overheard by others in a Safe Zone, even unintentionally.
This sort of problem has already been an issue at Delta, according to Perez.
At a recent Pride Club meeting a student’s decision to “come out” to her fellow members was affected by the fact that she’d be forced to do so in a semi-public setting because the Pride Club was not allowed to hold its meeting in the Pride Center.
While room availability for meetings is an issue, those most affected by the recent changes seem most concerned about the center’s lack of student influence.
According to Perez, an email from Butler informed Pride Club members that they had to remove their presence from the center.
The room was cleared out within days.
Considering how one of the Pride Center’s main purposes is to provide literature and materials to those who may need answers to delicate questions, a welcoming atmosphere plays a key role in its existence.
The bare walls currently on display are not conducive to such an atmosphere said former Pride Club Vice-President, Isaiah Merriweather.
“It doesn’t feel like a Pride Center anymore. It does not feel warm and inviting. It just doesn’t feel right.”
“They can’t do this to the students,” said Perez. “After all the work they did to make it their own they have to do this with the students.”
Dr. Lisa Cooper, Delta College’s Vice-President of Student Services, attended the most recent Pride Club meeting and acknowledged the situation at the Pride Center could’ve been handled better.
“My hope was that there would’ve been more sensitivity with the transition,” said Cooper. “The school wanted to make a fresh start, but I’m not sure that taking down the Pride Flag should’ve been a part of that.”
“Having students involved in discussions would’ve been how I would’ve preferred it,” continued Cooper.
“I wish there was more of a collaborative approach,” said Merriweather, lamenting those who were most involved in establishing the center have not been involved in any of the decisions regarding the current transition. “It was a center created by the students, for the students.”
Merriweather said he believes Delta has good intentions and believes the resources once offered at the Pride Center will eventually return.
“How things are today aren’t forever,” said Cooper, noting that the long-term vision for the center would revolve around, “honoring what the purpose of the center was designed for.”
Despite the apparent miscommunication, Cooper confirmed the Pride Club can resume using the center for its weekly meetings.
“That was never the intention, for the club to not have access to the center,” said Cooper.
As for the continuing evolution of the center, Cooper assured the Pride Club: “Your voice matters in all of this moving forward.”