URI launches construction of LGBTQ Center

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Ceremonial groundbreaking held today, April 16

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 16, 2014 – State officials and members of the University of Rhode Island community broke ground today for a new LGBTQ Center on Upper College Road. When the $2.1 million, 4,300 square foot site is completed, URI’s new center will be a safe and affirming place for all members of the community. URI is the first institution of higher education in the country to design and build a free standing LGBTQ Center.

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, other state officials, URI President David M. Dooley, Chief Diversity Officer Naomi R. Thompson, LGBTQ Center Director Annie Russell and students participated in the ceremonial launch of construction at 19 Upper College Road, the site of the old Ruggles House, a vacant URI building that will be razed.

“It’s a great moment for the University of Rhode Island to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity that’s part of our community now and will be in the future. As we have said in our Transformational Goals, building a community in which every member is welcomed, supported and valued is essential to our identity and mission,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “Located at the entrance of our Kingston Campus on Upper College Road, near our Office of Admission and our Women’s Center, this new building will clearly show our firm support for all members of the community.”

“In breaking this ground today, we break decades of silence and oppression for queer people,”said Annie Russell, director of the URI LGBTQ Center. “In digging into this earth, we dig into a future of inclusion and voice for gender and sexuality at URI. And in constructing this building, we design a future at this institution for every person to be valued, cared for, and affirmed, regardless of gender or sexual identity.”

Designed to give URI’s LBGTQ community a strong identity, the single story, stone and clapboard building will have a veranda running along the front of the center and plans call for its roof to feature ornamental plants and flowers. The Center will have 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 will be offices for the director, three staff members and student staff members. The Center is part of URI’s Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.

Andrew Dellorfano, a 2010 graduate of the University of Rhode Island and former member of the Talent Development program, was so pleased with the groundbreaking that he took time out of his busy day yesterday to send an email to the president’s office thanking President Dooley and URI administrators and faculty.

“I personally want to extend my sincere congratulations on the development of a historic structure on campus,” Dellorfano said. “I am talking about the new LGBTQ Center! URI has always been so creative in establishing a safe and nurturing environment for its students.

“Take it from me, as a proud openly gay man from Boston, Mass., I, alongside many of others have seen, heard, and at times experienced the stigma of being someone of the LGBTQ community. I am so proud and extremely awestruck at this marvelous creation and not only want to extend my since congratulations, but to say thank you for establishing this new Center.”

The contractor is Nadeau Corp. of South Attleboro, Mass., and the architect is LLB Architects of Pawtucket. Completion is projected for spring of 2015.

The current staff of the LGBTQ Center located in Adams Hall has developed and uses a strategic planning process to build and track the success of its programs and initiatives. The center started 27 new programs, services, groups or initiatives in 2011-2012 and added more than 50 more in fall 2012 resulting in more than 75 initiatives within just two years. This year alone, the center has hosted more than 100 programs and participation is growing. The URI programs and approaches have been adopted by more than 15 institutions nationwide and one internationally.

In addition, Russell and her staff have designed and led numerous Safe Zone workshops at several different levels for all members of the University community.

About URI’s Community, Equity and Diversity and LGBTQ Initiatives

• URI’s Community, Equity and Diversity Office was established in 2011

• Two new presidential commissions have been established: LGBTQ Presidential Commission in and Faculty, Staff and Students of Color

• The LGBT+ Alumni & Friends Chapter was formed in fall 2010

• First formal budget for URI’s LGBTQ Center was established and the strategic planning process in place has achieved many positive results

• More than 15 national institutions and one international institution use URI’s LGBTQ programs/services and strategic planning process as a model

• “It Gets Better” video – more than 100 participants were involved and about $8,000 was raised in two weeks to fund this compelling project. The video aired with tremendous success and was featured on Rhode Island PBS

• Supporting university-wide awareness of community, equity and diversity:

o 20th anniversary of the LGBTQ Center Symposium held this year featured the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church of America, Gene Robinson. It was one of several well-attended programs held during the symposium.

o 20,000 Voices: Exploring Big Questions about Community, Equity, and Diversity at URI. University-wide events have been held over the last few years to engage all members of the community in building the inclusive environment that President Dooley has described in URI’s Transformational Goals.

LGBTQ Center and Program Improvements

• URI is the first institution in the country to design and build a free standing LGBTQ Center

• The University established permanent director, full time coordinator, part-time coordinator, and graduate assistant positions with internships/practicum opportunities

• The center started 27 new programs, services, groups or initiatives in 2011-2012 and added more than 50 more in fall 2012 resulting in more than 75 initiatives within just two years.

• More than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff have participated in Safe Zone 101 workshops since the fall of 2012.

• Helping to foster URI’s gender-inclusive policies, facilities and language usage university-wide

• The LGBTQ Center’s comprehensive assessment model allows it to measure community participation, interest and approval of all events and programs.

• There were 1,200 visits to the current center located in Adams Hall last year and as of March 2014, more than 6,000 people already have been served through programs and visits to the center this year

• 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.

• Health Services will expand to be more LGBTQ inclusive for students, faculty, and staff; Beginning in fall 2014, URI will add gender transition coverage in the student health plan.

Pictured above:

DIGGIN’ IT: Members of the URI community and state officials participate in today’s groundbreaking for URI’s new LGBTQ Center. From left are LGBTQ Center Director Annie Russell, URI student and LGBTQ Center staff member FloJo Badejo; URI Chief Diversity Officer Naomi R. Thompson, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, state Rep. Frank G. Ferri of Warwick, Christina L. Valentino, URI vice president for Business and Finance and URI President David M. Dooley. URI Photo by Nora Lewis.

=In the News=

The groundbreaking for the University’s LGBTQ Center was met with great enthusiasm on campus and received considerable media attention including an interview by Citadel Broadcasting Talk Show Host Dan Yorke on April 15 with the Center Director Annie Russell.

Among those reporting on or after the event were the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Public Radio, Providence Business News, Channel 10, Channel 12, Channel 6, WPRO radio, and University Business and LGBTQ Nation.