A Welcoming Community
By Tatiana Sanchez
Founded 10 years ago, the Rainbow Resource Center provides a safe, loving space for LGBTQ+ students on campus.
When Kyle Arrouzet ’13 co-founded the Rainbow Resource Center at Santa Clara in 2011, he didn’t realize he was doing something revolutionary. He was simply trying to create the space he would’ve wanted for himself when he came out during his first year at SCU.
By then, Arrouzet had endured many years of bullying in high school and middle school, witnessed the passing of Proposition 8— a state ballot proposition and constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage—and frequently heard anti-gay phrases and slurs from classmates. The shame and isolation sent him into a deep depression prior to coming out.
“Up until that point I felt like a freak and had virtually no contact with other gay people whatsoever,” Arrouzet said. “I had no context for seeing it as ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ because I had never received any positive messaging about the queer community up to that point.”
He didn’t witness nearly as much discrimination at SCU, though being gay was still cast in a negative light, said Arrouzet. After coming out and with his depression subsiding, Arrouzet chose to take action. The struggles he experienced in navigating his coming out process and connecting with other LGBTQ+ students “lit a fire in me to do what I could to help other students so that no one would need to overcome quite such immense barriers.”
A decade ago, Arrouzet and several peers founded the Rainbow Resource Center, which educates, empowers, and celebrates the identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students on campus through events and programs. RRC, as it’s dubbed, is a symbol of acceptance on a campus known for its push for social justice and equality. Santa Clara is one of a few Jesuit campuses to have a resource center dedicated to its LGBTQ+ community.
When it opened its doors, the small, colorful room in the Benson Memorial Center was sparsely decorated with IKEA furniture and a giant rainbow flag gave SCU’s LGBTQ+ community a place to flourish without fear or judgement.
Today, LGBTQ+ students no longer have to endure the struggles that Arrouzet faced—at least not on their own.
“It’s humbling to think about,” Arrouzet said of his role in founding the center. “At the time, we felt that there was a need, and I know a lot of other people did, too. We jumped through a lot of hoops but I feel like it was really worth it.”
The resource center has become a critical lifeline for LGBTQ+ students who are finding their place on campus, offering everything from a quiet environment to do homework to a safe, loving community with peers experiencing similar struggles. Students whose loved ones aren’t accepting of their identities not only find a sense of belonging at RRC, but an extended family.
“When it was first created, it was literally just a room on the lower level of Benson,” said Joanna Thompson, director of the Office for Multicultural Learning, which oversees RRC. “But that meant a lot because it showed that the university said ‘here’s this space, we see you and this is for you.’ To fast forward 10 years and think that space has turned into so many things… it’s so awesome to be a part of that history.”
“Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve seen more and more students, staff, faculty and alum coming to our events, outing themselves in our safe and brave space and really just wanting to get involved and engaged,” Thompson continued. “It’s great we’ve been able to create that community for folks. Unlike many other Jesuit institutions and colleges and universities, we’re kind of like the unicorn—there’s not many Jesuit places that have a Rainbow Resource Center.”
On the walls hang pictures of prominent LGBTQ+ figures, including Marsha P. Johnson and Harvey Milk. Various LGBTQ+ items decorate the walls, including flags that symbolize various identities and orientations.
One of the center’s primary resources is the Rainbow Buddies program, which connects LGBTQ+ students to staff, faculty, and alumni. The program gained new life—and a new layer of significance—during the pandemic, when students relied on virtual meetings with mentors to stay connected. Thompson said participation in the program doubled in the past year.
The center also hosts Safe Space Trainings, Rainbow Prom, an annual drag show, and a “Lavender” Graduation ceremony for its students. On the first Thursday of every quarter, the center hosts ThursGay Lunch, allowing LGBTQ+ students and allies to come together over a meal.
One Student Inclusion Educator, who asked not to be identified because they haven’t come out, said the RRC has offered them a safe space to be their authentic self.
“Going into Santa Clara, my initial thought was, ‘It’s a religious university, I won’t be able to explore that part of my identity,’” they said. “But getting to Santa Clara, I found such a very welcoming community. The Rainbow Resource Center is a pillar that represents how much I feel comfortable on campus. I’ve come to consider it like my home.”
Though the coronavirus pandemic caused students to return home, forcing them to go back into the closet, they turned to RRC’s virtual community for comfort.
“Even though I’m not (physically) there right now, it’s always a location where I feel my happiest,” they said. “I feel most like myself. Also, being able to work with the Rainbow Resource Center, I’m able learn more about my identity. It’s this awesome bridge between acceptance and feeling safe.”
Coming Out Journeys
The birth of the RRC was a long journey often slowed by red tape, recalled Arrouzet, who said students were required to conduct focus groups—whose findings were reported to university leaders—to determine whether there was a need for such a space on campus.
It was a challenging task because only a handful of LGBTQ+ students were out at the time, and those who weren’t didn’t feel comfortable having their voices recorded during the focus groups, said Arrouzet.
“I remember feeling personally a sense of urgency for something like the RRC because of my experience with coming out,” he said. “Some of the other students and I that were involved in those early meetings expressed our frustrations with each other at the feeling that although the administration seemed to support the idea of the RRC, they weren’t exactly champing at the bit to make it happen.”
In 2010, a group of SCU community members wrote a proposal to create a physical space focusing on the needs of LGBTQ+ students. The Rainbow Resource Center was established the following year in Benson 11, under the direction of the Office for Multicultural Learning.
At the time, the LGBTQ+ community was largely underground, said RRC co-founder Pearl Wong ’12.
“There was like a secret group on campus for students who were questioning or openly out,” they said. “That was my first understanding of, okay, this is how this group meets. That’s why I was really excited for the Rainbow Resource Center, because we wanted an open space.”
While LGBTQ+ acceptance on campus was growing at the time, many LGBTQ+ students were still closeted, and those who weren’t faced discrimination, said Arrouzet.
During his sophomore year, Arrouzet said he found a gay slur written on a white board on his dorm room door.
“As far as attitudes on campus in that time, I think people were mostly generally tolerant—I would not necessarily say they were accepting,” Arrouzet said. “There were other cases that I knew of, of people saying all kinds of horrible slurs and things. It’s not that homophobia wasn’t present. It was. I think that the staff and the faculty, by and large, were pretty good.”
The beginning of RRC’s history is “complicated,” said Thompson, a queer woman of color who began working at Santa Clara in 2018. “At one point in SCU’s history, being out on campus was not okay. Even the LGBTQ+ alumni group was not allowed to be an alumni group at one point. There were so many barriers that really tried to stop the resiliency that we see. But it actually furthered that resiliency.”
Though Santa Clara has since taken steps making LGBTQ+ students feel more welcome, students often have questions and concerns about the university’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ students. That’s where RRC’s Student Inclusion Educators— paid student staff who promote diversity, equity, and inclusion amongst their peers by creating programs and events—play a critical role.
“The fact that we’re here and that we’re well-funded, I think that says a lot about the commitment that the school has to the community,” said Cassidy Basham ’21, an inclusion educator. “When (former president) Fr. Michael Engh was our president and had a march of solidarity with a rainbow band on his arm, it was huge for the LGBTQ+ community to see a Jesuit priest wearing a rainbow in such a prominent position. I think that there are so many steps that have been taken to show support.”
Thompson said she hopes the center continues to increase awareness and visibility of LGBTQ+ people on campus—especially LGBTQ+ people of color—and educate others on the issues they face. She also hopes to expand the center into a larger space and potentially hire full-time staff. The center is largely run by students.
For now, Thompson said she is grateful for how far the resource center has come—and how much that small space in Benson means to students who consider it a safe haven.
“If those walls could talk, they would have so much to say. So many stories, laughter, tears, joy, anger, frustration,” said Thompson. “But that’s the beauty of it all, the fact that we're here to create that space for folks.”
Jun 29, 2021
From left, RRC co-founder Kyle Arrouzet ’13, Vice Provost for Student Life & Dean of Students Jeanne Rosenberger, RRC co-founder Devin Wakefield ’13 and then-President Michael Engh, S.J., during the grand opening of the Rainbow Resource Center in 2011.