One of the universal truths about living during a pandemic is the strain it places on people’s social lives.
While social distancing is key in reducing the impact of the virus, it also makes it difficult to maintain connections with friends and colleagues. Isolation has become a normalcy in many people’s lives and trying to find the resources to stay connected with each other can be difficult.
For years, though, the Pride Center at the University of Tennessee has provided an avenue for students of all genders and sexual orientations to be a part of a community. The Pride Center has offered social networking services, meet-ups, workshop classes and so much more in order to create a welcoming environment for anyone who is interested in being a part of and learning more about the LGBTQ+ community. However, like the rest of the world, the Price Center was also impacted by the virus.
Originally, the Pride Center was set to moving from its Melrose Hall location to its own place in the Student Union in February. However, plans changed once the virus hit. Now, the Pride Center will be transitioning over to the Student Center at a later date, but that won’t stop the Center from providing its other services to the community.
Bonnie Johnson, coordinator of the Pride Center, spoke about the purpose behind the Center.
“The goals of the Pride Center are to provide academic and social support for the LGBTQ+ community at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville,” Johnson said. “We strive to be a space for all members of the UT community to engage with and explore issues relating to gender and sexuality.”
Johnson specializes in creating connections and providing student services to the people who need them. She details that part of the Pride Center’s duties is to provide a safe space for students and to provide access to an “equitable education experience.”
“The Pride Center offers a community space for LGBTQ+ students and allies to hang out, do homework, eat lunch and build community without worrying about being misgendered, misnamed or dealing with microaggressions based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation,” Johnson said.
In regards to how the Pride Center has reacted to the virus, Johnson said that the Center has prioritized the safety of its members by opting for more virtual sessions instead of in-person events. This includes everything from virtual lectures about art and gender to movie nights to a series of virtual queer yoga sessions.
For those interested in more details about upcoming events hosted by the Pride Center, check out its calendar here.
Building up communal connections is one of the main goals of the Pride Center. Will Martinez, a graduate assistant at the Pride Center, discussed a few of their programs offered.
“The Pride Center has a peer mentoring program aimed at connecting folks in the LGBTQ+ community to members of the community who have been at UT longer. … We have programs aimed towards holistic wellness such as Queer Yoga and advising sessions with the Writing Center and Center for Career Development,” Martinez said.
For many newcomers to UT, daily life can be overwhelming, especially with the pandemic still running strong in Knoxville. However, Martinez also said that the Pride Center can provide that social web that so many students need right now.
“People love the community at the Pride Center and new members typically find us by word of mouth. We are lucky to have colleagues who are familiar with the Pride Center and who send folks who may need support with connecting to the LGBTQ+ community and/or who need additional support services that the Pride Center might be able to refer students to,” Martinez said.
“With our virtual student socials, we have welcomed students who are new to the Pride Center. If folks reach out to us, regardless of their year in school or UTK affiliation, we are happy to serve as a touch point to build those community connections.”
While details are sparse right now on when the transition to the Student Union will become a reality, the Pride Center will continue to update the UT community more as they get closer to their date. Until then, the Pride Center will still offer its virtual sessions and events and welcomes anyone to participate and be a part of its community.