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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Prism Center needs an assistant director

Students and staff celebrated the opening of the Prism Center for Queer and Trans Life on April 6.
Students and staff celebrated the opening of the Prism Center for Queer and Trans Life on April 6.

A bell hooks quote lives in the kitchen of The Prism Center and serves as an invitation into the center’s beautiful living spaces: “One of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.”

The grand opening of The Prism Center for Queer and Trans Life on April 6 and the Pride Week events leading up to it were exceptional. The quality and joy of programming properly honored the five years of dedicated collaboration it took to create The Prism Center. That space is a gift to our campus, and I am grateful it exists. 

But I’ll be straight with you: currently, The Prism Center has no assistant director. It needs one. The fact that the Prism Center is understaffed makes it clear that it is not a financial priority of the college. The Prism Center must be properly funded and staffed in order to support queer and trans people on campus. 

This spring’s funding process was wildly unconventional and piecemeal. President Laurie Patton’s discretionary budget supported opening costs. Other programs sent funding to The Prism Center. The Sustainability Solutions Lab paid for a student intern. The Anderson Freeman Resource Center paid for a student intern. Queer and trans students created the vibrant murals inside. Only three of us were paid, all through external sources. I spent 37 hours creating the abstract rainbow-colored hallway mural and would have been unable to contribute to the center’s joyful interior if the Climate Action Fellowship had not funded me. Some students left the project because they could not afford a major uncompensated project on top of classes, jobs and extracurriculars.

If we want The Prism Center to support a thriving queer and trans campus community, we need sustainable financial and staffing support. This support starts with an assistant director and a reasonable budget. The current responsibilities of the Prism Center director include but are not limited to: outreach, education, consultation, resource access, programming creation, advocacy services, recruiting and managing student internships, overseeing in-house operations, administrative tasks and providing one-on-one support to any student, staff, or faculty of all genders and sexual and romantic orientations. 

This expansive job description is too much for one person. Yet, one person is currently tasked with labor that cannot reasonably be completed alone. No matter how brilliant Director Janae Due is (and brilliant is an understatement), running The Prism Center should not be the responsibility of one person. What other campus program has only one staff member?

The Prism Center is currently hiring three student interns for next academic year. I am so stoked that the center can hire student staff. Still, an assistant director must be hired. An assistant director can support the longevity of the center, ensuring the consistency of programming and supporting students long after interns graduate. I appreciate that funding is tricky; however, the very generous $4.9 million gift for mental health and the unrestricted $40 million gift to the endowment could serve as funding sources for the position. Face masks and mental health days are great, but a properly staffed Prism Center is a better use of money for mental health. 

The Prism Center is a place where queer and trans students know we are not alone. This home needs more financial and staffing support to sustainably stay that way.