Rainbow Lounge in progress to provide an inclusive space

UTA Libraries is collaborating with the LGBTQ+ Program to open the Rainbow Lounge -— a safe space for queer students on campus to gather and support each other. 

With the lounge’s soft launch planned for October, the space on the Central Library’s third floor will be a multi-use area students can use for studying and mentoring. It will have support groups, Pride Peers hosting their office hours, staff and faculty acting as mentors and a selection of queer books. 

“The main thing is just that it’s a visible representation of the library’s support for our queer and trans students,” multidisciplinary liaison librarian Elle Covington said.

Part of the library’s collection of queer books will still be available in the general section. With the help of the library’s Access and Discovery department, queer book collections will be tagged within the catalogs to help students locate them, Covington said.

Marbella Hernandez, fine arts painting freshman, said she expects the space to create community and a sense of belonging and will help her find people she can connect with. 

Covington said they were inspired to create the area for the LGBTQ+ community by the Vet Lounge, a community space for veterans on the second floor of the Central Library.

Animation senior Hope Bingham said the space is important to them because there aren’t many spaces on campus just for their community. 

“It shows that we’re welcome. That you’ve somewhere to go, and the university supports us,” Bingham said. 

Covington said the area is not just for the queer and transgender community but for everyone on campus. 

“If you understand people, if you know the terms and what it means, it’s easier to talk to people,” Bingham said. “And the more people learn, I feel like the [fewer] misunderstandings there will be.” 

Multidisciplinary liaison librarian Janet Burka said they will host the soft opening during LGBTQ+ History Month and Pride at UTA in October, but the lounge will not be complete until later. Due to delays in the supply chain as a result of the pandemic, it’s unknown when the components needed to complete the lounge will arrive.

“I think it’s also going to be a work in progress because we want to involve the LGBTQ+ Program and other students who are using this space in decorating that space,” Burka said. 

She said they plan to have students build decorative pieces and some furniture for the lounge using the library’s resources like the FabLab and 3D printing machines.  

“[It’s] a way for students to grow their skills but also feel a sense of ownership of that space,” she said. “So it’s not just librarians or the LGBTQ+ Program, like figures of authority, but you know, students are really sort of owners of that space as well.” 

However, both Covington and Burka said they understand that many might be conflicted about students’ safety in spaces like these. Also, some might not feel comfortable or safe with the visibility. 

“There’s always sort of this going back and forth about visibility versus being too visible and putting a target on people,” Covington said. 

They also had to be careful while picking the space to ensure the security of the location for student safety, they said. 

Covington said LGBTQ+ students can feel a constant sense of hyper-vigilance that impacts their ability to focus on academics and life. 

“So if we can provide a space where they can turn off that hyper-vigilant part of their brain and be like, ‘OK, I know I am safe here. I know I am supported. I don’t have to worry about that.’ Then hopefully, that will help them be able to devote more of that brain power that they would be spending in those directions to their studies, to their assignments, to those kinds of things,” Covington said. 

The lounge’s process of implementation took a long time, Burka said. The library’s recent third-floor renovations added a net gain of study rooms, justifying the Rainbow Lounge’s use of the space.

The lounge will be in close proximity to librarian offices, providing an easy line of sight for staff to watch students so they can feel protected and supported, Covington said. 

The third floor’s two current restrooms will be renovated to be gender inclusive. 

Covington said students who have a sense of community and connection are more likely to graduate. To have a space that says the university cares and wants to provide support personally and academically is important.

“One [reason] we emphasize is that even though this is called the Rainbow Lounge, it is open for everyone,” Burka said. “It’s not just for the queer and trans community. It’s for allies, it’s for [all]. It’s a welcoming space.”  

@ayeshahshaji

news-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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