Entering the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center, located on the third floor of the Union, a student can watch TV on one of three cozy couches, play on the computers in the corner of the room or do homework on a sturdy brown table.
Having a comfortable environment where students can come is one of many important aspects to the center, according to the Director of the LGBT Resource Center Leslie Morrow.
“[Conversations don’t] have to be serious. It doesn’t have to be about coming out…just dealing with life,” said Morrow. “It’s probably one of the most important aspects of the job.”
Morrow began this position in July 2008 when both the former assistant director and the director left the office. Though this school year was an adjustment for Morrow, as well as the rest of the staff and the LGBT community, Morrow found the year to be successful.
“It’s been a phenomenal opportunity for me professionally,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people, the students are great … I’m critical because … more priorities that need to be set, [but] as I’m nearing the end of my first year, I think it has been successful.”
Morrow picked chose to come to Champaign-Urbana because the “incredible” situation at hand gave her opportunities to grow upon the work that was already done by the former director, Kurt McKay.
“I really had the opportunity to walk into a well-oiled machine … then develop my own mission and vision and go from there,” she said.
Lyndon Stewart, the Interim Assistant Director, explained how the staff is seeing more student leaders in the community.
“It’s really important that we have strong leaders who can bring everybody in, come and get things done,” he said.
While Morrow thinks it has been a successful year overall, she said the office has done an effective job for some communities, but not others.
“We have a student that has a real interest in reviving the Greek Allies program and making sure that fraternities and sororities are as inclusive as they can be,” she said. “I know we’re not doing a good job of reaching our athletes, for example. Students of color, closeted students … [those are] still huge segments of the population that I don’t believe we’re doing a good enough job … meeting their needs.”
Though there are aspects Morrow wants to improve upon, such as the ones previously mentioned, she began her job at the U of I, with a student population of 42,000 after coming from a similar position at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a student population of 16,000. Morrow said this transition is the most challenging aspect of this year.
“It was hard enough to program for 16,000 … so I found the difficulty here is, am I reaching all the various communities that reside within the LGBT community, and am I doing an effective job?” she said.
Morrow, who identifies with the LGBT community, spoke of her struggles with her identity in college.
“Trying to understand what it meant to be a black, queer woman … I felt like I needed to compartmentalize,” she said. “Once I discovered the role of student affairs … I could place myself in a position to hopefully not struggle the way I did going through college, because it really affected my academics [and affected me] emotionally … So that was really my main motivation, so they don’t have to suffer the way I did.”
Though she has helped create new programming, along with the staff, for the LGBT community, Stewart said Morrow has had a large influence on the female members of the community.
“She’s made the biggest impression on the female members of our L and BT communities … she’s made it a very comfortable environment,” he said. “Not that it necessarily wasn’t before, but a lot more people are paying attention to what she’s doing … I think she’s had a really positive influence there.”
Morrow said the coolest part about her job is how she can connect with students.
“Hearing success stories, where [students] have successfully embraced themselves and love who they are … for me, that’s the coolest part, connecting with them in that way,” she said.