In this Q&A, the Sexuality and Gender Equality Center Coordinator Jenna C. Retort and SAGE Ambassador Jae’la Rivera, a sophomore psychology major, answer questions about the center.
1. What is the SAGE Center?
Ambassador Jae’la Rivera: The best word that I can use to describe the SAGE Center is community. Not only does the center provide lots of resources for the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s a safe space for anyone on campus.
Center Coordinator Jenna C. Retort: The SAGE Center is the Sexuality and Gender Equality Center. So, at the heart of what we do is provide support and resources for the LGBTQ+ community while helping to educate the greater university community around topics that impact the community and how to be better allies.
2. What services does the SAGE Center offer?
JR: There’s the Open-Door closet which allows students to come in, or donate, and get any clothes with no questions asked. Gender affirming thrift, basically. We also partner with Anchor Health, the New Haven Pride Center and the Triangle Community Center where they’ll come and offer STI testing with confidentiality. There’s always an open ear, so there’s always an ambassador or a graduate intern that’s willing to listen to any problems you may have.
JCR: The SAGE Center is really a resource in itself. We have a few services, and we also connect students to other resources that might be in other offices. Probably one of our greatest services, that was really started by one of our SAGE Center ambassadors, is the open-door closet. It’s available to all students because we recognize we have a lot of students who might have financial insecurity and may not be able to have both gender affirming clothes or clothes. We do have an LGBTQ+ Library. It’s a collection of books and other resources that we’ve gathered over the years. We do have SAGE Center ambassadors, a graduate intern and myself, so really we try to provide support to students in the LGBTQ+ community. And we serve as a resource for those who aren’t in the community, and we provide support for students whether it’s peer-to-peer, or a student with a faculty member, so we try to take in student concern and then help them address it at the appropriate avenues at the university.
3. What is one thing you would like students to know about the SAGE Center?
JR: I think a lot of people think that the SAGE Center ends when you go, and when you leave, but I think there’s a really big community outside of campus as well. The graduate intern, and a visitor from SAGE, collaborated to make a Discord and from there, everyone who visits SAGE is there on your side even if you’re not an ambassador. It’s bigger than just going there. It really is a community where you get to know everybody.
JCR: One thing I want students to know is that the center is for everybody. I think increasingly over time it’s definitely getting better. We used to get the response from people when we’d say the SAGE Center is the Sexuality and Gender Equality Center, identify first and think “I don’t need that.” We really can’t have a thriving university community unless we all are part of the solution and part of supporting students.
4. What is a myth about the SAGE Center you’d like to debunk?
JR: I think there’s a lot of myths about the SAGE Center. One is that a certain type of person goes there. For example, you have to be a part of the LGBTQ community to go there, and that’s not true. We have some ambassadors that are heterosexual some that are cisgender and others. It’s really just an open space for anyone.
JCR: I think people thought the SAGE Center was just for LGBTQ+ students but to really understand the student experience, everyone needs to know that the center, our programming, our trainings are meant for everyone.
5. How does the center promote a positive environment for LGBTQ+ students at Southern?
JR: I think we’re really open to communication and new ideas. Sometimes people will come to us with maybe some pronouns, or an identity we’ve never heard of before, but we don’t shut it down. We try to learn from them and then we try to educate other people from them.
JCR: Our students are kind of the best face for the center. So we have a group of students that are SAGE Center ambassadors. These are students who were recruited and have a desire to do LGBTQ+ advocacy work. They are in the center and serve as a resource for students. They do programs. They help support admissions day, such as open house and admitted students day. They’re helping bridge that gap because it might be really scary for a student who might be out, or a student who might not be out yet, to think about transitioning from high school to the university. Being able to see that friendly face makes a big difference. That representation really matters for students.
6. Can you describe the SAGE Center in one word?
JR: Family! Just because of how warm and welcoming it is.
7. How do ambassadors work with students?
JR: Most of the time ambassadors are students who previously visited the SAGE Center. So, not only are they part of the community, but they know their audience. I know for me, this is my first year really going to SAGE Center because of COVID. But you’re there when you work your shift and you see who comes in. The environment makes you want to get to know who comes in and it’s super open. There’s always room for conversation and nobody ever shuts you down. It’s really easy for an ambassador to build community relationships just based on the atmosphere.
JCR: We have them staffed at the same time as our regular office hours, so they help make sure we can keep the center open. That way when Brandon Iovene, our graduate intern, or myself, are out doing trainings, the physical space is available to students.
8. What made you want to be a part of the SAGE Center?
JR: I wanted to be a SAGE worker after visiting as a student in years prior and feeling like the previous ambassadors really made a difference in how safe I felt on campus. I wanted to be a SAGE ambassador and spread accessibility and acceptance across campus.
JCR: Since I was in college, and high school, and formally advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, the opportunity presented itself in 2016 when Southern needed a coordinator for the center. I was approached about providing leadership for the center. I’ve been doing it ever since and it’s been a really awesome journey to be able to see the SAGE Center grow and thrive.
9. What can students do in the SAGE Center?
JR: You can do anything. Some people come and they sleep, some people come and they cry and some people come and study. It’s really just an open space, but really you can do anything you would do alone or with people.
JCR: They can do a lot of things. They’re welcome to certainly hangout, do homework. A lot of students see it as a social space. A lot of students in Tabletop also visit the SAGE Center so there’s often a lot of games going on. We have a TV with a fire stick so students can certainly watch Netflix and do things of that nature. Use the open-door closet, talk with Brandon the graduate intern.
10. What are your goals for the center in the next couple of years?
JR: The next couple years I really would like to see SAGE Center work and collaborate with other organizations. I’d really like to see SAGE show up in other places that aren’t just the Student Center. So, even in the library or Engleman, places like that.
JCR: We started the SAGE Center fund last year because of a really great donation that we received from a former student and actually on my to-do list for our graduate intern, is thinking about how we really expand our efforts and encourage people to donate to the center. The goal of the SAGE Center fund is to really support LGBTQ+ students because we know that they are more likely to face housing and food insecurity. They’re more likely to be kind of disowned from their families, and other financial resources. We know your car breaking down or not having gender-affirming clothing could be the difference between you dropping out or you getting your degree so we really want to grow that fund.