Photo by Casey Gomez

On Tuesday, Sept. 4 at Clough Commons, administrative staff and members of the Path Forward Advisory group held the Student and Community Life forum, the first of three town halls organized to present updates on the continuing initiative to enhance student life and mental health and strengthen resources for the LGBTQIA community. Among the changes completed include the recent Aug. 23 opening of new office space for the LGBTQIA Resource Center.

“This was after a summer-long renovation project using funds committed by the president and from a gift to Tech the center received earlier this year,” said Aby Parsons, director of the LGBTQIA Resource Center. “Now what we have in the center are two professional staff offices, a meeting room, a lounge study reception space and a smaller room called The Oasis geared to provide as a mental health resource space.”

The Oasis comprises one of two mental health resources expected to be expanded within the next six to 12 months. The other is Rising Up, a program funded by the Joint Allocations Committee designed to help develop resiliency in its LGBTQIA-identified members. The program, which has started this fall, is centered on a small student group that meets every Wednesday at the resource center. Enrollment in the program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

To increase accessibility to LGBTQIA resources around the Institute, a cohort of 25 faculty and staff have also been recruited from a variety of departments to serve alongside the Resource Center in developing collaborative programs and relaying information about the center and its initiatives to their respective departments. The training of this cohort is expected to be completed by next week.

“We are hoping this will extend our network further across campus, so students don’t have to seek out the center but rather seek out people in their home department,” said Parsons.

To attain the initiative’s goal of addressing all members of Tech’s student body, the administration has also worked to extend campus resources to graduate students. The biweekly Grad Buzz e-newsletter promotes events and resources geared specifically towards graduate students. Following their undergraduate counterparts, graduate students will now also have their own convocation, followed by an annual graduate student picnic.

“Right on the onset, for onboarding and graduate students, we want to welcome them into the Tech family and make sure they know they are part of the larger campus community,” said Marla Bruner, director of Graduate Studies.

In the upcoming semesters, efforts are being made to complete the designation of gender-inclusive bathroom signs across campus and to continue training Stamps Health Service providers in providing care for transgender students. Parsons also discussed proposals for further-reaching policy change, including the implementation of gender-inclusive housing options.

“For transgender students in housing, there is no way for them to indicate on their application that they want a gender-inclusive housing space,” said Parsons. “We really want to look at ways to change that system.”

President G. P. “Bud” Peterson originally started The Path Forward initiative in Oct. 2017 following the death of Tech student Scout Schultz. Schultz’s death prompted the administration to seek out more effective ways to improve student mental health.

In response, President Peterson assembled three action teams to acquire suggestions from the community and identify key issues to address.

Over 180 recommendations were submitted, out of which 55 objectives were created. Given the large amount of suggestions by the community, the Path Forward Advisory group was created in Dec. 2017 to help prioritize and respond to recommendations.

“The main role for this group was to monitor progress, serve as a liaison to senior leadership, and help communicate all of the progress to the campus community,” said Abheer Bipin, fourth-year ME and member of the Advisory group. “We reviewed all these 180 recommendations and consolidated duplicates or recommendations that were similar.”

In the discussion following the presentation, some students displayed concern that the initiative, in its attempt to promote mental health resources in the general student body, had become diluted in its aim to address certain critical groups of students, including the LGBTQIA community and those faced with disabilities.

A second Path Forward town hall, with a focus on Health and Well-Being, was held on Thursday, Sept. 6, and a third town hall on Academics is scheduled for next Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 11 a.m. in room 102 of Clough Commons.