Director of Syracuse University’s new LGBT resource center wants to provide safe place and support for students, faculty and staff
Director of Syracuse University’s new LGBT resource center wants to provide safe place and support for students, faculty and staffAugust 31, 2001Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
When she came out as a lesbian during her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Adrea Jaehnig felt “very alone. The visibility that lesbian and gay people have today just didn’t exist in the 80s,” she says.
There were no campus organizations to help her come to terms with her newly- acknowledged self. As a result, Jaehnig says, she found support mostly in bars. “Not the most healthy or safe places to get it,” she comments. Recalling that time in her life is one reason she is committed to providing a safe place for others who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) or questioning their sexuality.
“I would like to save someone from that feeling of being alone, that there is no safe person to talk to,” Jaehnig says.
That commitment is a big part of the reason Jaehnig was chosen as the first director of the University’s LGBT Resource Center, which will open in October. An eight-year employee of the Office of Residence Life, Jaehnig had been the staff adviser to PRIDE Union, an undergraduate LGBT organization, and Rainbow Alliance, an organization of LGBT Residence Life staff. She was also a member of the University Senate’s committee that recommended the creation of the office.
Jaehnig started out in Residence Life as a complex director, eventually becoming an assistant director of the office, then associate director. She has a bachelor’s degree in education and human services from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a master’s in higher education and student affairs from the University of Vermont. She hopes to finish work for a doctorate in higher education and student affairs administration from SU by December.
“Adrea has always been an advocate for change within the Office of Residence Life, and she’s always been interested in issues of diversity,” says Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Barry L. Wells. “I’m not surprised she emerged as the top candidate for this position. I think she’s capable of building this program from the ground up.”
Jaehnig will report to James Duah-Agyeman, the University’s new director of multicultural affairs, who sees educating the community and providing a safe place for LGBT students, staff and faculty as two of the center’s most important objectives. “She is a strong leader. I’m looking forward to working with her,” he says.
The Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns was created in 1998, after then-student Jordan Potash proposed establishment of a Rainbow Task Force to deal with issues of concern to the campus’ LGBT population. While SU had several LGBT student organizations, there was no official support for LGBT students from the University. Potash submitted his proposal to Wells, who decided that it was more than a student issue. Wells suggested to the Senate Agenda Committee that it establish the ad hoc committee
The committee held open forums, conducted campus surveys and gathered information about efforts to support the LGBT populations at other universities. It also invited Vernon Wall, assistant dean of students and director of student affairs at Iowa State University, to facilitate discussion of LGBT concerns. Wall is a nationally-known speaker on LGBT issues.
The committee concluded that the atmosphere on campus for members of the LGBT community was “chilly.” It recommended creation and staffing of the resource center, along with other actions, such as:
- giving the ad hoc committee permanent status;
- developing policies and procedures to support LGBT students;
- adding courses in LGBT studies;
- providing workshops for faculty and staff members to learn about LGBT issues;
- educating students in residence halls and student organizations; and
- making an effort to hire more faculty and staff who are openly LGBT.
The resource center, which will serve students, staff and faculty, will start out in the basement of the health center. Though all involved acknowledge that the location is not ideal, they felt it was more important to get the center started than to wait for a better space to become available.
“We’re committed to finding adequate space for the resource center,” says Wells, “but we wanted to move on this as quickly as possible.”
Jaehnig says she will initially spend a lot of time talking and listening to students, faculty and staff to help her set priorities for the resource center. Among her goals are to make people aware of the center’s existence; set up support groups; help bring LGBT faculty and staff together through communications and activities; and to raise awareness of LGBT issues through such means as bringing in guest speakers, putting together social and arts events and creating programs in residence halls.
“People are already more aware of LGBT issues just through the fact that the resource center is being established,” she says. “We hope to build on that.”