The bright GSRC entrance on the ground floor of Foster Walker Complex House 5, where the doors are decorated with a lively display of rainbow artwork. Photo by Kennedy French / North by Northwestern

Following the reopening of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) at the beginning of winter quarter, queer community members and allies have begun using the new space to the fullest.

In the Fall of 2023, renovations were made to the first floor of the Foster-Walker Complex in preparation for it becoming the new home of the GSRC. Initially, many students who frequented the former space in Norris expressed excitement about the new location.

“I was so excited when I heard we were moving. It [the GSRC] was due for an upgrade,” said Weinberg third-year Sarah Wachs while studying at the new GSRC.

For nearly two decades, Northwestern University’s GSRC was housed on the third floor of Norris University Center. The old location, with its limited amenities consisting of a solitary armchair and a claustrophobic study room, pales in comparison to the spacious and upgraded new space. Some students joke that the GSRC “came out of the closet.”

SESP fourth-year Rafael Contreras works at the center and said he’s glad to move on from the inconveniences faced at the Norris GSRC location.

“It was too small of a space,” Contreras said. “There were worries about being too loud and interrupting other people. The lack of space was also keeping people from coming in.”

Some students found it anticlimactic when it was first announced that the GSRC would be housed in an on-campus dorm. Despite this, Wachs said many were shocked by the success of the renovations and the untapped potential of the new space.

“It was kind of underwhelming,” Wachs said. “It’s a dorm, at the end of the day. But when I walked in for the first time, they made it so cute. I was so surprised – I’m obsessed with it.”

A vibrant room in the GSRC where students can collaborate and study together. Photo by Kennedy French / North by Northwestern

GSRC Director Matt Abtahi explained that the previous location was viewed as a lounge space within a larger entity. The new location in Plex is recognized as its own space. The GSRC is now an intentionally designed and located area for students to be themselves.

“There is a shared understanding in this space that our last space wasn’t able to achieve,” Abtahi said.

Abtahi has noticed increased traffic and student usage in the GSRC since opening the new location . To better serve students, the GSRC now sends out feedback surveys every six weeks, aiming to improve student engagement compared to its previous location.

“The goal for me as the director is to continue to work with and alongside students so that this space evolves the way students want,” Abtahi said.

The new space features several study rooms decorated with vibrant wallpaper and colorful seating options. In addition to these study rooms, there is a common space that is furnished with comfortable seating and a large TV.

The common area was created to encourage social interaction and collaboration among visitors, further enhancing the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere of the space. Abtahi, along with help from students, guided the space's interior design concept.

“Students gave feedback on everything,” Abtahi said. “That informed a lot of the decision making I made with our campus designer.”

In October 2023, the new GSRC soft-launched with a week of themed events and activities. Each day was dedicated to a unique theme, offering a diverse range of experiences. Since then, the center has continued to host a variety of engaging events, including arts and crafts nights and RuPaul's Drag Race watch parties. These events are designed to be inclusive, welcoming individuals from all backgrounds to connect.

“I really like RuPaul’s Drag Race. I think it’s so much fun; I’m trying to make it a permanent thing,” said Communications second-year and GSRC Student Engagement Leader Sequina King.

In the months since its reopening, Weinberg second-year and GSRC employee  Camille Nichols said, the center has blossomed into a community hub, offering a safe and nurturing environment for queer students and communities on campus. For many, it has been a source of solace and support unlike any they have experienced before. Nichols had lacked a space in highschool where queer voices of color were centered. She said the GSRC has provided this for her.

“Queerness is not a monolith,” Nichols said. “I feel like this space highlights that.”