If there are students on campus who are looking to be involved in the LGBTQ community, a place where they can be their true selves or are struggling with their identity and are in need of someone to talk to, they should check out the Pride Center and have a chat with the university’s Director of LGBTQ+ Programs, Chris Schlarb.
For many years, through various universities, Schlarb has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community. Using the position the university has given them (them/their/they are Schlarb’s requested pronouns), Schlarb provides support, education, programming and advocacy to students and faculty in this growing community.
Challenging campus to be open-minded and accepting towards those who identify as LGBTQ, Schlarb feels their most important job is to be a source of support to the LGBTQ and UND community.
“I’m here to support students,” Schlarb said. “In their growth, development and when they run into challenges. When it comes to education, my job is to teach and inform students, staff and faculty how to be more inclusive. How to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, to increase student retention, support and improve the campus climate for individuals who identify as LGBTQ and increase cultural competency amongst the campus community.”
Through their own personal trials and tribulations, Schlarb is able to relate to a lot of the students who come in to visit. With help and guidance, Schlarb was impacted in such a way the experience inspired their decision to become involved in student affairs.
“I think it had to do with experiencing a lot of challenges as an undergrad and graduate student,” Schlarb said. “I didn’t have LGBTQ resources at my undergraduate institution. It was a coordinator of student government who really helped me try and navigate certain situations, help support me and also figure out who I was. They also helped me learn how to educate folks.”
Schlarb has developed various web pages that cater to those who identify as LGBTQ. Sites include information and resources about student organizations, gender inclusive housing options and scholarships. There are also resources on how to change personal information at the University, where the university will “change what they need to in order for an individual to be able to be identified properly,” according to Schlarb.
Looking to build community amongst students who identify as LGBTQ, Schlarb discussed the idea of a discussion group involving students who identify as LGBTQ and their allies.
“We’re doing a piece involving a discussion group called Qchat,” Schlarb said. “This project will hopefully build a stronger community, so that we can discuss challenges and educate those who are looking to know more.”
When asked about future plans for the department, Schlarb responded with a plan that is to be set in motion within the next academic year.
“It’s all about creating visibility and community,” Schlarb said. “Right now, I’m working on getting the word out about who we are, where we’re at and what we do. In the fall, we’re really going to be promoting our LGBTQ+ Ally training and getting more folks educated on campus to increase knowledge and support of the LGBTQ community on campus.”
Additionally, Schlarb believes the pressures of society may be causing people to hide and suppress their true identities.
“There’s a lot of attrition factors when it comes to the LGBTQ community,” Schlarb said. “There’s a lot of health factors and challenges that students experience, and I think that has a lot to do with the lack of visibility and support for this community in North Dakota.”
Despite how they feel about the state and LGBTQ visibility, Schlarb finds enjoyment within the field through one on one experiences with students.
“At times students will come in here and you can really see them struggling,” Schlarb said. “They appear anxious, pretty uncomfortable and are looking for community and support. I’ve had situations where I’ll chat with them and even provide academic opportunities, such as an internship in order for them to work in the office where they feel comfortable. Just being able to watch them come into their identity, become more confident, more aware of who they are is something that resonates with me.”
The Pride Center is located in room 219 on the second floor of the Union. Anyone who chooses to stop in can expect a lounge area for students to study, eat or hang out at.
Sheldon Hatlen is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]