CSUN USU allocates space for three groups

Samantha Tata

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Students and faculty demonstrated a large presence at the USU Board of Director’s meeting Tuesday to express their concerns about the importance of having a veterans’ and LGBTA resource center. Photo Credit: Mariela Molina / Staff Photographer

University Student Union (USU) board of directors allocated space in the student union for a veterans’ resource center, bicycle co-op and an LGBTQ resource center, the representatives of which appeared in droves to the make their case before the board Monday.

The tenants must submit a detailed plan to manage their new locations and secure funding by December of this year to secure the spaces they were given, said Executive Director Debra Hammond.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Resource Center

Before the board’s approval, CSUN was one of two CSU campuses without a queer resource center – the other being CSU Dominguez Hills, said LGBTA president Martel Okonji.

“The (resource center) would create a place to call home,” Okonji said during open forum.  “It would be a positive addition to the CSUN campus and create a safe-space for LGBTQ students.”

Establishing safety and tolerance on CSUN’s campus dominated the discussion by students in favor of the center.  Speakers cited the recent beating of a transgendered woman in a Baltimore McDonald’s as evidence this safe environment is lacking among the American public.

“Who’s to say that wouldn’t happen in Los Angeles?” said Andrea Koontz, a transgendered student who identifies socially as Alexander.  “I would like to be able to walk across campus at night without fear of being attacked.”

Although they were without an official home, LGBTA has been active on campus.  Last semester the group held a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the suicides that rocked the LGBTQ community when five gay teenagers took their lives in October 2010.

“It became clear that night that there are more students at risk,” said Karlee Johnson, vice president of LGBTA.  “We don’t want CSUN students to become a statistic.”

Johnson said there are about 173 resource centers around the U.S., the highest concentration of which are located in Southern California, and CSUN students have demonstrated a desire to bring such a center to campus.

“We’ve collected 1,000 signatures and counting in support of this resource center,” Johnson said.  “We will provide information on medical resources, the coming out process, trans awareness and political action.”

She noted that LGBTA has hosted such events as Gay Prom and CSUN’s chapter won the bid to hold the national Queer People of Color Conference next spring. The organization mentors students at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, offering them tours of campus.

About 20 students showed their support by standing collectively when their representatives spoke before the board and donned purple T-shirts with the slogan “Legalize Gay, Repeal Prop 8,” the California initiative that bans same-sex marriage.

The LGBTQ resource center will be located across from the Fitness Centre in the space held by the Living Well Center, a Student Health Center subsidiary. Living Well will vacate the premises when space in the new student recreation center is available in early 2012.

Okanji said the group will secure funding through grant money and A.S. funding.

Veteran’s Resource Center

CSU Long Beach student veterans responded to the denial of a resource center by creating their own makeshift space on campus, said Carol Calandra. She didn’t want to see CSUN student veterans similarly turned away by university officials.

“Student veterans need help to navigate the huge system of education,” said Calandra, representing CSUN’s Veterans Club. “CSUN has 500 veterans on the books, but how many are not on the books?”

She said 70,000 veterans will return to the states within the next two years with full educational benefits thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a benefits system that provides upfront tuition payments, a monthly living allowance and a book stipend for veterans wishing to return to school.

In addition to educational demands, veterans also require medical and mental health services upon their return home.  Calandra said about 20 veterans commit suicide daily.

“Americans join the armed forces for the education benefits, because those towers came down and for a chance at a better life,” she said.  “They deserve these resources.”

Speakers noted that veterans are more apt to ask other veterans for help.

After serving three tours in Iraq, graduating senior Cory earned the Purple Heart but was less successful on campus.

“I was lost when I came to CSUN,” he said.  “This (center) would empower us. We have a lot of needs, medically and financially.”

The Veteran’s Resource Center will be located across from the Fitness Centre in the former Cellular Flux space.  Proposals for the center note that it would not be used for recruiting purposes, but rather mentoring.

Bike Co-op

CSUN’s campus has seen a surge in bicycle riders, from those who choose to cruise from the dorms to students who use two wheels as their predominant mode of transportation.  Students from the Bicycle Collective proposed to make the campus safer for walkers and riders alike through the creation of a Bike Co-op.

“Our goal is to make CSUN one of the most bike-friendly campuses in the state,” said Hakeem Davis, Bicycle Collective organizer.

The group currently sets up shop on Sierra Walk and beckons cyclists to pull over for a tune up of squeaky breaks or flat tires and maintenance lessons.

Carlos Hernandez, president of the Bicycle Collective, said a resource center may eliminate abandoned bikes being left on campus, only to be stripped of parts, their skeletons left clinging to the racks.

“I saw a student riding with loose handles,” Hernandez said.  “That’s a safety risk for him and everyone around him.”

Dennis Dalfonson, a transfer student from UC Santa Barbara, said his experience at UCSB has informed his understanding of CSUN’s cycling community.

“I see so much potential for CSUN to improve,” Dalfonson said.  “As a bike mechanic for five years, I’ve seen a lack of education but (cycling) is an incredible, sustainable mode of transportation.”

The Bike Co-Op will inhabit the former space of Digital One photography in the back corner of the USU. Its base level rent is set at $30,000 – a bill that Davis said would be paid for by transportation and sustainability grants from the federal government, potential retail sales and A.S. funding.