The St. John’s University community joined together recently to celebrate the opening of St. John’s LGBTQ+ Center inside St. John Hall on the Queens, NY, campus.
After a year without an official home, the center is now nestled on the second floor of St. John Hall in room 216. First created in 2021, the LGBTQ+ Center is a resource and research hub for organizing, coordinating, and innovating LGBTQ+ issues, and serves as an open and welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and employees.
“There have been so many efforts going on for decades to increase the safety, inclusion, and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals on campus,” explained Shanté Paradigm Smalls, Ph.D., Founding Codirector of the LGBTQ+ Center; Associate Professor, Black Studies; and Affiliate Faculty, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. “What happens though, is students graduate, and administrators and faculty move on, and then you have to start all over again. This center provides continuity.”
Since the center was first formed, it has been instrumental in a wide range of initiatives at St. John’s, including the addition of Gender-Affirming Housing, the mapping of All-Gender Bathrooms on campus, and the creation of University LGBTQ+ Resources.
“The reaction from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Candice D. Roberts, Ph.D., Founding Codirector of the LGBTQ+ Center and Associate Professor, Division of Mass Communication. “In the last year, we have received so many congratulatory emails from faculty, staff, and alumni, and surprise and excitement from our students.”
“This center has offered a space to signal to all of our students and employees that they belong at St. John’s,” said Rachel Pereira, Ed.D., Esq., Vice President of Equity and Inclusion. “I am so excited at the possibilities of excellence that will come as a result of the bravery and courageousness of Drs. Roberts and Paradigm-Smalls.”
Last year, the center hosted a wide range of events, including a book talk with researcher Dennis Tyler, Ph.D., a screening of documentarian Vivian Kleiman’s film on queer comics, and the Interdisciplinary LGBTQ+ Research Jam, an interdisciplinary forum for members of the St. John’s University community to collaborate around LGBTQ+ research.
“One of our goals this year is visibility,” Dr. Roberts explained. “We want to highlight and promote the center and all the partners of the center so that everybody on campus knows who we are, where we are, and what we have to offer. We want the center’s legacy to position St. John’s as being at the forefront of Vincentian social action through impactful research and service.”
“My gender journey has been a bit confusing, so having the center is a wonderful resource for me,” said Valerie Fulmer, a second-year graduate student in Chinese Studies. “It’s amazing to have a place to go where I don’t have to worry if someone is going to be nice to me and just acknowledge me for who I am.”
“One of the core values of our University is respect, which we express as ‘a courteous regard for all people whose diversity is embraced.’ The opening of this center reflects our concrete commitment to this value. This is an important moment for our community,” said Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s.
For Alex Conger-Bonet ’22CCPS, a first-year graduate student from Detroit, MI, the center is a welcome addition to the University. “There’s been a little bit of a shift, not just here, but around the whole country, where people are trying to figure it out to be themselves,” Alex noted. “I think the University is spot-on in opening this center, and I’m glad to see that people are excited about it.”
“Congratulations to Drs. Smalls and Roberts on a successful launch of the LGBTQ+ Center,” exclaimed Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs. “The space is a warm and inviting place to come together to support one another, share ideas, and be in community together. The Center is an important resource for St. John’s that enhances belongingness, equity and inclusion."