SAGA, DEB and ICC officially unveil the Lavender Lounge

Bryce Lewis-Smith (senior), Kass Wolde (sophomore) and Ariadne Makridakis (senior) at the opening of the Lavender Lounge at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA), Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) and Intercultural Community Center (ICC) officially opened the new Lavender Lounge queer space in Pauley Hall Oct. 8. The grand opening featured food, music and various activities for students, faculty and staff to engage in. Student members of the Lavender Lounge committee delivered a short speech thanking the attendees and commending the collaborative effort it took to create the lounge, which is meant to be a safe space for LGBTQIA+ students.

Christopher Arguedas, interim director of the ICC, said he was moved by how many faculty, staff and students attended the event. Arguedas said his priority for the opening event was to achieve DEB and SAGA’s vision, which was to create a comfortable space that people would return to. He said he feels the ICC, DEB and SAGA successfully accomplished their goals.

“We hoped to achieve introducing folks to a space they want to come back to,” Arguedas said. “No matter who you are, you feel that you can connect to that space.”

According to Harrison Brennan Kallner (junior), SAGA treasurer, and Rory Hayes (junior), SAGA co-president, the process of establishing the Lavender Lounge was a year in the making. Brennan Kallner said the effort began with a small group of students and staff that grew over time; the resulting Lavender Lounge committee consisted of Brennan Kallner, Hayes, Arguedas, Ariadne Makridakis (senior), Maggie Smart-McCabe (senior), Kass Wolde (sophomore), Sandy Nguyen (junior) and Venetia Boyce (‘19).

According to Brennan Kallner, the committee worked with Rob Flot, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, and former Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Broomfield during the 2018–19 academic year. Brennan Kallner said they locked in the location of the queer space in the spring semester, which was followed by an open house event to gather feedback prior to renovations.

Arguedas said the feedback from the open house centered around people wanting a space rooted in community, where visitors could connect and collaborate with themselves and others.

According to Brennan Kallner, there were also concerns regarding accessibility for disabled students — due to the location of the lounge on a hill without a ramp — which the committee is working with Campus Safety to address.

“We’ve acknowledged that,” Brennan Kallner said. “But I think the fact of the matter is that Occidental’s campus is not accessible, period.”

Hayes said the committee is also working to address a different barrier to accessibility: the issue of who has key card access to the room. As of right now, only Lavender Lounge committee members and SAGA e-board members have key card access to the space, according to Hayes and Brennan Kallner. Hayes said the committee is figuring out how to increase key card access to the room while maintaining the safety of both the space and Pauley as a residence hall.

Rick Tanksley, director of Campus Safety, said via email that he and the committee are still finding a way to ensure both kinds of accessibility without creating an undue burden on Campus Safety officers.

Overall, Brennan Kallner said the majority of the feedback was extremely positive.

“We had a really good turnout of both students and faculty. There was a lot of positive feedback, people excited for the space, people really wanting to use the space,” Brennan Kallner said.

Beading activity happening at the opening of the Lavender Lounge at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

Following the open house, Brennan Kallner said the planning process consisted of renovations and logistical organizing. According to Brennan Kallner and Arguedas, renovations were performed over the summer, including clearing out the computers, installing new carpet, moving in furniture, painting the walls, cleaning and getting new doors.

“I worked very closely with facilities management, Celia Ruiz (assistant director of operations) and her team. Facilities was incredibly helpful in all of what you see today,” Arguedas said via email. “It was a big undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without them!”

According to Hayes, having multiple student perspectives gives the Lavender Lounge committee more legitimacy. Hayes said the collaboration with DEB has been very positive and highlighted the fact that three of the four original committee members were also on DEB.

“It just goes to show that DEB is a really great student service that does a lot of work, a lot of work all across the board, on top of what they need to do for their own DEB positions,” Hayes said.

Hayes said they are very pleased with their collaboration with the ICC under Arguedas’ leadership and support him staying in the director position permanently.

“I don’t think that there’s any other better person as of right now to be in this role because Chris knows students and the students trust Chris,” Hayes said. “In this new era, we’re seeing a lot of really good things come out of [the ICC]. Having that administrative support is so important.”

Brennan Kallner said they think DEB, the ICC and SAGA have made a good team. According to Arguedas, his shift to the ICC from the Dean of Students office has allowed him to give more of his time to supporting the Lavender Lounge, and he is able to partner with DEB and SAGA in a more meaningful way.

“It’s been an amazing process to enact their vision, listen and co-create,” Arguedas said. “I look forward to taking what these students have shared and also thinking critically about new students and how we can build something meaningful together.”

Brennan Kallner said queer students can use the space for studying, programming and meeting and socializing with others in the community.

“This is a small campus, and I think when you’re already a part of a marginalized identity, sometimes you feel like there’s nowhere to go where you can feel within your community,” Brennan Kallner said. “It’s kind of hard to get that space, so that’s what the Lavender Lounge will act as, it’s a home ground for the queer community.”

Check-in table covered in pride flags at the opening of the Lavender Lounge at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

Hayes also said that the location of the Lavender Lounge in Pauley, a multicultural hall, should foster discussions within the queer community on how to best support queer students of color. Hayes said they hope that student organizations such as Sister Outsider, which is targeted to LGBTQIA+ black women and woman-aligned people, utilize the Lavender Lounge as part of that effort.

Zachary Galen (first year), who attended the grand opening, said he looks forward to utilizing the Lavender Lounge as a new hangout spot with his friends.

The committee is creating a space reservation form for the Lavender Lounge, similar to the ones used for rooms inside the ICC, according to Hayes. Both Brennan Kallner and Hayes said the space is not meant to be constantly occupied by SAGA, encouraging anyone to host programming in the Lavender Lounge.

Arguedas said he wants to focus on drafting a mission for the space with input from the student community, hosting programming around gender identity and expression, having the ICC’s equity ambassadors host office hours in the space and granting Pauley RAs access to the space.

Brennan Kallner and Hayes spoke about the progression of queer support and resources on campus from when they were first years. According to Brennan Kallner, at the beginning of the 2017–18 academic year, there were at least three queer student organizations on campus. Brennan Kallner said these organizations failed to create an inclusive space for queer students of color.

In Fall 2018, Brennan Kallner said there was no new dedicated queer club on campus, prompting them, along with Hayes and Nguyen, to create SAGA. Since then, Hayes said the goal was not to simply rebuild what was lost after the older queer organizations collapsed, but to expand further by adding new student liaison positions for QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color), trans and ace/aro (asexual/aromatic) students.

According to Hayes and Brennan Kallner, the Lavender Lounge serves as an important reminder and anchor to queer student organizations, marking an important moment in the college’s history of queer students, faculty and culture. Using the MLK Lounge and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) as examples, Hayes said that having a physical space on campus encourages student organizations and leaders to sustain their work.

Arguedas said the evolution of support and resources for queer students has been very encouraging to see and wants to keep that momentum going.

“It excites me that we’ve been able to make progress in such a short amount of time. I think it speaks to the meaning of collaboration,” Arguedas said. “When collaboration happens and it happens well, great things can come from it and the Lavender Lounge is a prime example of that.”