After a long wait, SDSU’s Gay Straight Alliance group is getting their own office space in what might be a surprising location.
Upon return from summer break, students found Papa John’s in the basement of The Union hidden behind sheets of plastic as work began to convert the space into GSA’s new office space.
“Looking at what other peer institutions had done, it’s very unusual for a student union not to have a GSA or LGBT group in an office space in their union,” Jenn Novotny, director of The Union, said.
According to GSA president, Graciela De Reza, the group has wanted office space for several years.
The new location is under construction, waiting for the go-ahead from Facilities and Services, and once they sign off on everything, total construction time should take about a month, De Reza said.
Papa John’s will move upstairs in the Market. Due to its decrease in business, the Student Union Advisory Committee decided that moving the food service upstairs would be a better option for students, Novotny said.
“The Union is really a very dynamic building, and it’s not easy to say oh this should go or that should go … it requires reflection …,” Novotny said. Determining what groups receive space and location of that space ultimately comes from discussions among union administration, SUAC and other administration at the university.
Funding for all projects in The Union, whether it’s a coat of paint, or putting up a new wall comes from the overall operating budget for The Union, Novotny said, meaning the construction of the office space falls under that budget as well.
Currently, GSA shares space in the Multicultural Center, located in the lower level of The Union. The space holds a variety of groups, particularly the Black Student Alliance, and includes space for Disability Services and the Veteran Resource Center.
“While GSA is represented on the plaque, and some pamphlets, we aren’t necessarily represented in the office space,” De Reza said.
With approximately 45 active members, and as many as 75 people showing up to meetings, they are forced to meet in the Walder room upstairs in The Union, as it’s the biggest room that is also conducive to their needs.
“They need a bigger space, they’ve been on the back burner for a while … especially with the growing LGBT community on campus,” Semehar Ghebrekidan, president of the Black Student Alliance, said.
GSA plans for their new office space to provide a sense of community for LGBT students and people at SDSU and a space that can educate those interested in learning more about GSA.
“Information is the big one, we only have one pamphlet space as it is now, getting to be able to expand on that and provide a safe place, especially for those that have trouble with their roommates,” Sandy Mosholder, program coordinator for GSA, said.
According to De Reza, the office will serve as a central place for people to come and learn about LGBT issues, and for people of the LGBT community to find support. Due to lack of their own office space, people may not know where to go to find this type of support or safe zone, De Reza said.
“We actually recently had two students transfer out [of SDSU] due to the lack of resources,” De Reza said.
Many large universities have entire buildings dedicated to LGBT or GSA centers that provide support to students. With growing numbers joining GSA at SDSU, receiving office space is a sign of increased inclusion here on SDSU’s campus, Mosholder said.
The office space will also provide GSA with room for their Safe Zone Training, a service the group provides to various groups at the university, De Reza said. The office will provide a space for the group to meet as well as provide space for students to study or hang out in a safe environment.
“…It’s [office space is] something that we kind of need because though we do … blend with these other multicultural groups, we are becoming our own type of group as well, there are similarities yes, but there are differences, and the different kinds of needs we have…it’ll be nice to have a place,” Mosholder said.
According to Novotny, having an inclusive student union was one thing she felt fortunate to have in college.
“It was very inclusive and it was very multicultural,” Novotny said, which is what she wants students to have here at SDSU.
“There is a way to build a strong community, and…it isn’t a matter of one group getting something over another, it’s about building a strong community and connection between students,” Novotny said.
Now that GSA has secured their own office space, the next step De Reza hopes to achieve is hiring a full time paid adviser that they would potentially share with another organization such as the Campus Women’s Coalition.