A student-produced report and petition are being distributed by the University of Pittsburgh and surrounding communities to persuade university officials to create an LGBTQIA + center – a place that will provide Pitt students and other information, resources, and community.
Tyler Viljaste, a Pitt junior and vice president and chief of the cabinet of the student government, came out bisexual in his freshman year. Without a central location for resources and tools, he said he didn’t really know how to approach the issue with his family and friends. He was fortunate to have friends who were understanding and supportive, he said, but in retrospect he wished he knew where to go for professional advice.
“It was definitely overwhelming and I have a feeling that many people in this community share the same story,” said Viljaste. “Looking back, I wish I had a place or something to turn to. I wish these resources had been more accessible to me. “
His experience was instrumental in his decision to run for the student government and form the LGBTQIA + Task Force, which consists of more than 80 students, faculties and staff and is divided into several committees.
“Pitt is one of our peer institutions … one of the few – if not the only institutions at our level – that doesn’t have a dedicated resource center, a physical space on campus dedicated to LGBTQIA + students,” said Viljaste.
Pitt has a variety of student groups, services, and programs aimed at people in the LGBTQIA + community: a LGBT Health Research Center, Pride Health, an LGBTQ Minor, Pitt Queer Professionals, and many others.
However, according to the “2021 Report on the Status of LGBTQIA + Resources at the University of Pittsburgh,” there isn’t much coordination between groups or “visible” staff specifically responsible for LGBTQIA + student services.
“The resources for LGBTQIA + people at Pitt are not extensive, but also disaggregated, and I think this leads to great frustration among students because they don’t know where to look or what resources to look for not ”, said Viljaste.
The lack of a central location puts an additional burden on organizations outside the university, Viljaste said, and puts an additional burden on Pitt’s own LGBTQIA + professors and staff. He noted that staff who have completed their allies’ training or are openly “out” have undertaken “a lot of excessive emotional work” while mentoring students.
In addition to a dedicated LGBTQIA + center, the report also suggests hiring more LGBTQIA + staff to ease the burden, recommend new and updated services, and establish a timetable for implementing changes. The task force is asking the center to set up a dedicated digital website with online resources and provide a “safe space” for LGBTQIA + students to offer advice, meeting rooms, events and other non-profit services.
The center would benefit not only Pitt but the surrounding Allegheny County community, Viljaste claims.
The report, published earlier this month, has been in the works since last semester. In addition to inviting Pitt students and people outside of the university to sign a petition in support of the project, the task force is now seeking feedback from students and the administration. Viljaste said the report is a “living document” that the authors are constantly updating. He hopes to continue collecting signatures over the next few weeks and to meet the university administrators at the end of May.
“We can work on the document in real time. If we keep distributing the document while different groups of students, faculty groups, or different people read the report, they can give us feedback,” he said.
Kevin Zwick, a spokesman for the university, said the administrators are in “constant dialogue” with the task force.
“Pitt is committed to making all members of the LGBTQIA + community feel safe, respected, and valued on campus,” he said. “We encourage all students, faculties and staff to familiarize themselves with the resources of the university and the community.”
Zwick shared several websites with available resources for students, including information about on and off campus groups, counseling and student health services for LGBTQIA + students, and guidelines for promoting an inclusive community.
Viljaste is aware of the challenges the project is facing. Most obvious is the limitation of physical space on Pitt’s existing campus. However, the task force sees this project as a priority to address the needs of a significant section of the university community, Viljaste said, and is optimistic.
“College is a time when many people come to see their own identity, sexual identity, or otherwise,” he said. “This is a huge thing for a lot of college students, and the fact that these resources don’t actually exist is a problem.”
Teghan Simonton is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.