The Prism Center for Queer and Trans Life at Middlebury is set to open this spring at the Farrell House, providing the first-ever resource center on campus specifically for LGBTQIA+ students. President Laurie Patton and Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández announced the opening of the center in a message to the Middlebury community on June 28, 2021.
“The Prism Center will provide outreach, education, consultation, resources, support, programming, and advocacy services for students, staff, and faculty of all genders and sexual and romantic orientation. It will focus particularly on student empowerment and center on the experiences of queer and trans people of color,” the message noted.
It also stated that the planned move-in date was the end of the fall 2021 semester; two years later, the much-anticipated Center is finally set to open next month. Covid-19 related delays in the renovation of the new space resulted in the later opening date.
Fernández credited students with providing support and initiative for the proposal to develop the Prism Center, emphasizing that they, along with faculty and staff, have advocated such a place for many years.
“The idea of an LGBTQIA+ Resource Center was primarily driven by students,” he wrote in an email to The Campus. “Although the mission of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center is to support students from underrepresented groups, it was felt that a center dedicated specifically towards LGBTQIA+ issues, in particular those affecting queer students of color, was needed for programming, support, and in order to promote emotional wellness.”
The new center will offer students services such as affinity spaces, one-on-one support, and products that enhance gender-affirming support, hygiene and community care, according to the Prism Center’s Instagram. The renovated space will include a fully furnished kitchen, multifunctional common spaces and single stall bathrooms.
“The Prism Center for Queer and Trans Life aspires to build a just community that foregrounds critical engagement with intersectional systems of oppression,” the Center’s first Instagram post from Jan. 12 reads.
“There had been calls for such a center for years from students, staff, and faculty,” Fernández wrote.
According to Fernández, students made a direct proposal to the administration in 2019 to explore the possibility of establishing an LGBTQIA+ center on campus. The proposal was supported by Fernández’s office, the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
The office passed the proposal along to Patton, who in turn formed a committee of students, faculty and staff to work on the project. Khaim Vassar-Fontenot ’23.5 was asked by Patton to join the LGBTQIA+ Resource Center Committee via email on March 3, 2020, mere days before schools began to close due to the pandemic.
Over Zoom, the committee investigated needs on campus which could be potentially addressed by such a Resource Center, researched similar programs at peer institutions, and brainstormed ideas for the Center itself and programming in line with the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s five-year goals.
“We were invited to be a part of a committee that was planning to open up a new center for queer and trans students in a place where not only those students, but essentially a space for community in general, could happen,” Vassar-Fontenot told The Campus.
After completing these steps the committee made recommendations about the project to Patton.
Fernández explained that the task force concluded its investigation and presented a proposal for a new LGBTQIA+ Resource Center to the Senior Leadership Group, comprised of administrators across departments of the college, in April 2021.
Janae Due, formerly the assistant director of the Anderson Freeman Center (AFC), has been appointed to serve as the Center’s inaugural director when it opens in the spring. Due currently supports and creates programming for queer and transgender students in their role, according to the AFC’s website.
Vassar-Fontenot praised Due for their previous work and looks forward to seeing them take on the new position.
“I have full faith in [them], and I'm really excited to have [them] specifically fill that role. And I saw how much that [they] invested and also just how much [they] care about this demographic,” he said.
Fernández also acknowledged the work of Patton on the Prism Center. He credited her with remaining dedicated to the project and even sitting in on the committee’s sessions. “That does not happen often. It showed real interest and commitment on her part,” he added.