“The Party Is Here!” read the sign over the Queer Resource Center’s new front door this summer.
Inside, members of the staff were chatting about relationships and astrological signs, laughing as they balanced laptops on their knees. In the microwave, a bag of popcorn was finishing its delicious cycle.
The space, which the staff and students moved into in a rush in early June, already felt homey barely a month later, with a generous worktable, comfortable chairs and a couch and a floor-to-ceiling library.
Overjoyed with the QRC’s new location on the second floor of Keefe Campus Center, in a space much larger than their former home in the basement of Morrow Residence Hall, director Angie Tissi-Gassoway and her students—Education and Advocacy Coordinators Saren Deardorff ’17 and Nayah Mullings ’17—turned cartwheels when they arrived, and immediately pressed for an orange accent wall to be painted Amherst purple.
Both of those things speak to what they hope the space will be: a cheerful, welcoming environment that fully embodies and embraces the Amherst community and beyond.
“The idea of having the Queer Resource Center move out of the basement of Morrow has definitely been a dream,” said Tissi-Gassoway. “What that comes down to is having visibility for our community and also accessibility for our community.”
In its more central location, the QRC is open to the students, faculty and staff at Amherst and also the wider Five College community—something that was not possible when the center was in a locked residence hall. Elevators, gender-inclusive bathrooms and the public nature of Keefe all add to the center’s greater accessibility.
Together with the Multicultural Resource Center and the Women’s and Gender Center, the QRC falls under the new Office of Diversity and Inclusion, spearheaded by Amherst’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones.
“For me it’s a no-brainer,” Tissi-Gassoway said of the move. “The resource centers are uniquely set up now to be in the same physical space where we can collaborate in ways that are so much more intentional and authentic than we have ever been.”
She was quick to note that the relocation was possible only because of the support of community allies. The staff of the Amherst Student newspaper agreed to relinquish the Keefe space and move into Morrow, and the Student Affairs office offered financial support.
There were also soul-searching conversations within the Amherst LGBT community about whether such a change would preserve the close-knit, supportive and protective atmosphere that existed in their previous location.
“Having been in that space for three years, I definitely got attached and felt like this was our safe space,” said Deardorff. “It was definitely a space we could access, but we felt like we could be private if we needed it.”
Ultimately, though, Tissi-Gassoway noted that the QRC was “busting at the seams”; the lack of room meant that some students had to stand outside the door to participate in certain programs and events.
Of the new space, she said, “I think the opportunities are endless.” And among her plans this fall? “Dance parties!”