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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW groups foster community for underrepresented students on campus

Gender and Sexuality Campus Center celebrates anniversary, Disability Cultural Center looks towards future
Jeff Miller/UW Communications
The Red Gym is the home of the Multicultural Student Center. Such a center was one of six recommendations from UW’s first diversity initiative.

As the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center celebrates thirty years of building community on campus, students at the University of Wisconsin intend to provide a similar welcoming environment with a Disability Cultural Center. 

Thirty Years and Counting

Thirty years ago in 1992, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Campus Center, now called the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, was established at the University of Wisconsin. 


But student organization and support for the center started years earlier, according to University of Wisconsin Gender and Sexuality Campus Center director Warren Scherer.

“The first LGBTQ+ Services Office on a college campus was actually the University of Michigan,” Scherer said. “At the time, students were using the existence of LGBT Services Offices on other campuses to request one here.”

Since its establishment on campus, the LGBCC has gone through multiple name changes.

A few years after opening, a “T” was added to the acronym, making it the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Campus Center (LGBTCC). This reflected the needs of transgender, non-binary and genderqueer individuals who were previously excluded from the acronym, according to Scherer.

The most recent switch occurred in 2018 when the center changed to its current name, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center. This adjustment worked to acknowledge that the LGBT acronym is not all encompassing, according to Scherer. 

“The Campus Center went through this iterative process [in 2017] with current students about renaming, and students settled on Gender and Sexuality Campus Center,” Scherer said. “So gender encompassing various genders, and sexuality encompassing various sexualities, so that there would be no one who would perceive that if the acronym seemed limited they are excluded from services.”

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The Campus Center quickly outgrew their small room in Memorial Union, Scherer said. To meet the demands of an increasing staff and student population, the center switched locations in 2020 to the Red Gym in room 123. 

The new location is double the square footage, allowing more space for LGBTQ+ student organizations to meet and students to gather, Scherer said. The pandemic altered students’ ability to use the physical space, so the new GSCC location opened to students in Aug. 2021.

“And from that moment, it has been nonstop,” Scherer said. “We have seen a definitive increase in the number of LGBTQ+ students organizations on campus, the number of reservations by orgs of our space [and] the number of events that the Campus Center can host … We’re averaging about 55 people a day which is above our average in our old space.”

The GSCC hosts a wide range of events that typically center around three ideas — belonging and cultivating connections to other people on campus, community building and interacting with others, Scherer said. 

Inside the center, students have the opportunity to make friends, work on homework or applications, play games, eat snacks and engage in open dialogue about their experiences on campus, according to Scherer.

Creating a Space for the Disabled Community

UW sophomore Emmett Lockwood first visited the GSCC in Sept. 2021 while working as an intern for the Associated Students of Madison. 

Lockwood immediately noticed an environment that felt welcoming. 

“I saw this place so filled with color and wonder and Uno and wonderful staff and wonderful people,” Lockwood said. 

Lockwood identifies as a queer student and recognizes this as an inherent part of his identity. At the same time, however, he holds an identity as a person with disabilities just as close.

“Being disabled on campus is really interesting,” Lockwood said. “On the one hand, it’s been really liberating to come to a campus like UW and just meet other disabled people and meet other people who are not afraid to self-identify. On the other hand, I think the disabled population on campus is still often very much overlooked when it comes to the general equity and inclusion efforts of campus.” 

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After seeing the GSCC, Lockwood wondered if the McBurney Resource Disability Center offered a similar space for the disabled community on campus. While UW has a large population of disabled students, the university does not provide a unified disability culture or recognize disability beyond a medical status, according to Lockwood.

From that moment on, Lockwood began advocating for a Disability Cultural Center on campus. He envisioned an environment where all students — at any point in their disability identity journey — can connect. 

“I think it says something that the primary way campus [administration] views disabled students so far is through accommodations, through making disabled students adjust to campus rather than having a space on campus where disabled students can truly be,” Lockwood said. 

In Dec. 2021, Lockwood and a coalition of students started a petition for a DCC at UW. The physical space would allow the campus community to think about disability beyond a medical lens and as a vital form of culture and identity, Lockwood said.

Since the idea for a DCC came to be, students and staff from the McBurney Center met regularly to develop a plan, according to University of Wisconsin Law student Hannah Balder. 

Nothing happens quickly in a university setting, though, McBurney Disability Resource Center director Mari Magler said. 

“While I think there’s some good support from student affairs in general for the idea of a cultural center, space and funding are the biggest things that will take time to figure out,” Magler said. “And it’s now just kind of trying to throw everything that we can toward the effort to help it move along.”

This fall, the McBurney Center granted the DCC a temporary space in the Graaskamp conference room. The space will be available for a year, according to Lockwood.

Even with a temporary space, the DCC became the 13th Disability Cultural Center in the U.S., Lockwood said. 

“People with disabilities are everywhere on campus,” Balder said. “You don’t really realize that a lot of people walk around feeling like their accommodations are an inconvenience or they’re just a singular experience — but that’s not the case. I hope that having a center for people to connect with each other will help people feel like there’s a space for them on this campus.” 

Providing Community on Campus

Both the GSCC and DCC at UW provide students with both a physical space and resources to connect with their community. 

At the GSCC, the events offered range from small to large scale, Scherer said. Students always have the ability to participate in individualized consultations and support.

Discussion groups held by the center usually consist of four to eight people and focus on a variety of topics. The current available groups are Polyam+, Queer Students of Faith, Queer Survivor Support Group, Queerly Beloved and LGBTQ Let’s Talk. On the larger scale, the GSCC hosts speakers who bring in anticipated crowds of over 500 individuals, Scherer said.

Students can also participate in training and education at the GSCC, Scherer said. These sessions include topics from LGBTQ+ inclusivity practices to assessing policies and procedures. In the spring, the center offers a course called the Queer Interpersonal Life Skills Lab.

“Students will find support and information and we will endeavor to meet their needs,” Scherer said. 

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According to Scherer, the staff works to create an environment that promotes open dialogue, but also respects boundaries. When approaching students, Scherer asks if they would like support or solutions.

Balder envisions a similar atmosphere at the DCC. 

“I hope people come,” Balder said. “I hope students don’t feel like if they show up, that means they’re disclosing something. I think that’s always a concern. It’s a space to build community for people with disabilities, but it’s also a space to learn about disability and the disability community.”

And like the GSCC, the DCC is constantly listening to student voices and taking different perspectives into account. 

The original name for the proposed center was the Disabled Students Cultural Center. After hearing from a student, the coalition changed the proposed name to the Disability Cultural Center. This is more encapsulating of people at different stages in their disability journey and includes the deaf population who has historically been left out of disabled spaces, Lockwood said.

Though the DCC is new to campus, Lockwood said students can expect a lot of events in the future.

“I know we’re currently working with the GSCC on planning a paint night,” Lockwood said. “We have disability sex ed and we’re hoping that our numerous student groups who are a part of the coalition will be able to make use of the space.”

Lockwood also hopes to use the space to advocate for a Disability Studies program on campus.

UW is working to provide underrepresented students across campus with spaces. The Multicultural Center at the Red Gym currently houses the Asian American Desi Pacific Islander Student Center, Indigenous Student Center, Latinx Cultural Center and Black Cultural Center.

This fall, the Wisconsin School of Business also opened a multicultural center to learn, build community and promote cultural change.

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