San Marcos,
09:32 AM

Helping Students Feel at Home

By David Ogul

When the LGBTQA Pride Center first opened at Cal State San Marcos, the office was tucked away in a small space at the University Commons, it had no budget, no money, and interacted with only a handful of students – if that – each month.

No more.

Since the 2017-18 academic year began last fall, nearly 1,100 different students have walked through its doors at the University Student Union for a total of 9,449 total visits in all to access an array of services and programming.

Among its neighbors in the USU is the Cross-Cultural Center, the longest-serving social justice center at CSUSM. Over the years, the Cross-Cultural Center has reached thousands of students, faculty and staff through diversity trainings and workshops on various topics regarding diversity and multiculturalism.

Both centers underscore CSUSM’s commitment to social justice and equity, and both are celebrating milestone achievements this spring. The Cross-Cultural Center held a 15th anniversary gala on March 27 in the USU Ballroom; the Pride Center will honor its 10th anniversary with an April 20 fundraising bash.

“We want our campus to be a place where students can be who they want to be, a place where they can come and be themselves,” said Floyd Lai, Associate Director of Multicultural Programs in Student Life & Leadership, a position that includes overseeing the Cross-Cultural Center. “These centers are vital in making sure that happens.”

Quanjun Sun, a Pride Center peer educator, says such efforts are having a positive impact.

“California State University San Marcos highly values diversity,” he said. “We have numerous campaigns focusing on diversity, such as Beyond the Stereotypes. There are social justice centers other than LGBTQA Pride Center, such as Gender Equity Center, the Black Student Center, Latinx Center and Cross-Cultural Center. Each of them serves marginalized groups of students, and each provides services to every student on campus.”

Cross-Cultural Center

Lai was the assistant director of the Cross-Cultural Center at UC Irvine for nearly six years when he arrived at Cal State San Marcos in June 2011 to serve as Associate Director of Multicultural Programs in Student Life & Leadership.

“It was a relatively young campus that afforded an opportunity to create some new programs and new traditions, and CSUSM’s commitment to social justice issues was certainly an attractive element,” Lai said.

He hasn’t been disappointed. During his tenure, the Cross-Cultural Center has focused on four key programming themes: activism and advocacy; multicultural competency; critical engagement across social identity groups; and retention of underserved or underrepresented populations. Among this spring’s programs and events: Lyrical Justice: We Gon’ Be Alright, an April 26 discussion centering on mass incarceration and why the United States, with a little more than 4 percent of the world’s population, now houses approximately 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. Other sessions included an April 10 discussion from Dr. Michelle Holling, Professor and Chair, Communication, who spoke on the topic of “A Series of Firsts…Being Brown in Academe.” In 2017, the Center hosted a pair of Activism Labs focusing on ways that students can effectively engage in social justice movements.

Elisa Serna, a student service specialist at the center who has been taking part in activities there since she was a freshman, said the center serves up to 40 or more students daily.

“It’s an inclusive, important space for all students,” she said. “It’s not aimed at any particular students, but for all students.”

LGBTQA Pride Center

Robert Aiello-Hauser’s involvement with the Pride Center began in 2008 when he was a student in the CSUSM Multi-Subject Teaching Credential Program. The Pride Center had just opened, and the center’s first director, Rodger D’Andreas, asked Aiello-Hauser for help in writing a grant to start a Safe Zone community education program at the school. Two years later, Aiello-Hauser was named Pride Center director. He has been the director for eight of the center’s 10 years.

“The Pride Center’s first year was about letting students know there was a space on campus, a space to find other students in the LGBTQA community and to offer support,” Aiello-Hauser said.

Today, the Pride Center tackles topics from homophobia and gender identity to domestic violence and social justice. Volunteers and staff stage an array of gAyPRIL events celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and ally community. This year’s events include a Pride Walk, a TransForum, a Tye Dye Party, and a Spill the LGBTea.

But most of all, the Pride Center is a safe space for the LGBTQA community, a space where students can prepare a meal in a clean kitchen or have access to a computer lab.

“It’s a home away from home, or even a home for people who don’t have a home,” Aiello-Hauser said. “A lot of people need a sense of community and support through college, or they’re going to drop out. That’s the last thing we want.”

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