The Pride Center has relocated to the Student Union to the third floor of the Student Union. Since its creation nearly 11 years ago, the Pride Center has been housed in Melrose Hall, a location that Bonnie Johnson, coordinator of the Pride Center, and the students love, but have outgrown.
The new home to the Pride Center, located across the hall from the Office of the Dean of Students, will give the Center the much-needed square footage to serve more students and the greater LGBTQ+ community here at UT. Johnson, notes the importance that this change of space signifies for the Pride Center and the LGBTQ+ community at UT.
“In my opinion, it’s the culmination of many years of advocacy and hard work,” said Johnson. “I think there is symbolism in the new location: it really represents a larger institutional commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and a wider vision for the future of student support services. With the additional support of our administration, alumni and donors, we are entering our next phase of growth as a unit with this transition.”
With the new space comes new opportunities for students; it offers a place to build more community and connections that can last a lifetime, connections that Johnson herself experienced during her time involved with the Pride Center as a UT student. Relocation in the Student Union will also offer more opportunities for collaboration with the other Student Life offices housed there, such as the Center for Student Engagement, the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, the Jones Center for Leadership and Service, and the Office of the Dean of Students.
Students are already getting excited and thinking about what the new location will mean for their fellow Vols. Promise Brown, a senior psychology and art major, has been visiting the Pride Center regularly since their freshman year and understands the impact new space can have on the LGBTQ+ community at UT. They explain that
since becoming involved in the Pride Center, they have been able to connect more and create bonds with classmates.
“It both literally and figuratively represents new opportunities for us to connect to students, faculty members, and other parts of the college,” said Brown. “More visibility to students in the Student Union means more acceptance can grow and more students can find a space they feel safe in. To me, that means I can finish my senior year here knowing that the sendoff is very promising for our future.”
Madison Woods, a senior psychology major and a 2021 Torchbearer recipient, says the Pride Center has greatly impacted her time here at UT, providing her a space that allowed her to feel like herself and build connections and friendships. A strong advocate for the Center, Woods says she believes the Pride Center is so important to our campus because offers the UT LGBTQ+ community a space to feel heard and seen. She values the staff and student assistants that help make the Pride Center a welcoming place for students, faculty, and staff.
“Places like the Pride Center are important for students because it provides students a space for them to feel truly like they matter and belong,” says Woods. “The Pride Center provides resources for both people who are out in the LGBTQ+ community as well as people who are not yet comfortable or feel safe being out which I feel is very important. Spaces like the Pride Center are the reason why I have become the person who I am today and been more confident in my abilities to lead and talk about my identities. They provide opportunities through programming and other events that lets students make Rocky Top their home and build connections with other students, faculty, and staff.”
The space will enjoy similar amenities as other office suites in the Student Union and new ones as well. Johnson stated, “For example, our new conference room will not only be able to host our departmental meetings but also provide a location for student organizations and other groups to meet within our center. We will have a computer lab/resource room available as well, and our staff will have more dedicated office space.”
Additionally, the space will be fitted with two entrances: the main entrance and a side entrance for students who may desire a more discrete way into the center, as well as a new lounge/lobby area that will accommodate more people for programming and events once COVID-19 regulations allow for larger gatherings.
The Pride Center will join other campus resources and departments in a new space on the third floor of the Union, including Smokey’s Closet, the Graduate Student Senate, and an interfaith prayer/meditation space.