When they broke ground last spring on the $2.1 million, 4,300-square-foot building, URI became the first institution of higher education in the country to design and build a free standing LGBTQ Center.
“Welcome Home,” says URI President David M. Dooley. “Prominently located on Upper College Road, our new Gender and Sexuality Center firmly states that we value and support every member of our community. This new facility is a tangible way for current and new students, faculty and staff to know that our transformational goals are far more than words on paper. We encourage, welcome and celebrate the growing diversity that’s part of our community.”
In the fall 2014, the leading non-profit organization working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students issued its annual report card and named the University one of the top 50 LGBT-Friendly universities in the nation. The Campus Pride ranking shows the best of the best, based on a five-star continuum of progress for LGBT-Friendly policies, programs and practices. URI received a five out of five star overall rating, as well as five out of five stars in nine of the 10 categories measured, with 4.5 out of five stars for one.
“This University is putting community, equity and diversity right up front — recognizing the rights of individuals to define their own gender and sexual orientation and leading the way for other academic institutions,” said URI Associate Vice President for the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity Naomi Thompson. “This new facility, our support of full gender confirmation coverage in the student health plan and our vast community outreach are just a few parts of our comprehensive approach to equity.”
Annie Russell the center director who also serves as an advocate and resource to students, faculty and staff added: “Our new center will allow us to enhance and grow our programs and services by leaps and bounds. We will be able to host classes, workshops, and campus and community programs for the first time in our center’s history. We will also become a standard bearer for institutions across the country, to showcase the future possibilities for centers like ours. This truly allows us to fulfill our vision of becoming the top institution in the country for gender and sexuality related issues.”
The single-story, stone and clapboard building has a veranda running along the front and features three different rooflines. It includes a multipurpose room with a capacity of about 50, a conference room for about 20 people, a group counseling room and a student lounge. There are offices for the director, three staff members and student staff members. Previously located in Adams Hall, the Center is part of URI’s Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.
The building was designed by LLB Architects of Pawtucket to be consistent with the main campus roadway’s residential style, and was constructed by Nadeau Corp. of South Attleboro, Mass. The project was completed on time and on budget.
URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center provides a supportive, equitable and safe environment for all persons on campus. Well known for its unique initiatives, the center runs more than 100 programs each year to educate, engage and support community members on issues related to gender and sexuality. The Center also sponsors speakers who discuss these issues, and provides “Safe Zone” and other workshops to train students, faculty and staff on basic issues affecting the LGBTQ community and how to be an ally. The URI programs and approaches have been adopted by more than 15 institutions nationwide and one internationally.
Gender and Equity Center Programs
• Last year at least 1,050 people visited the center for social and academic-related programs.
• The Center held more than 75 initiatives, programs, events, or services that were developed over the last three years. Some of the largest events included the “Big Gay Picnic,” “Coming Out Week,” “Trans Awareness Week,” “Lavender Graduation,” and the annual LGBTQ Symposium.
• More than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff have participated in Safe Zone 101 workshops since the fall of 2012.
• URI provided Safe Zone workshops to participants from seven other colleges and universities, in a new effort to bring our program to other institutions of higher education.
• A Living Learning Community focused on gender and sexuality was created, which is academically connected to Gender and Women’s Studies. Plans include creating an academic track in this program and, the first course focused on gender and sexuality has been offered.
• Based on Health Services has expanded to be more LGBTQ inclusive for students, faculty, and staff
• Beginning in fall 2014, URI added full gender confirmation coverage into the student health plan.
• Center staff have created many connections, academic partnerships, or offered presentations to a variety of stakeholders.
About URI’s Community, Equity and Diversity Initiatives
• URI’s Community, Equity and Diversity Office was established in 2011
• Two presidential commissions were established: LGBTQ Presidential Commission and Faculty, Staff and Students of Color.
• The LGBT+ Alumni & Friends Chapter was formed in fall 2010
• More than 15 national institutions and one international institution use URI’s programs/services and strategic planning process as a mode