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Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

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A conversation with…Liz Roccoforte

Liz Roccoforte is the director of Case Western Reserve University’s LGBT Center, which is located in the west wing of the Thwing Student Center. Recently, Roccoforte led the National Coming Out celebration, which involved signing up more than 450 LGBT allies. The Observer had an opportunity to talk with Roccoforte about her experiences at CWRU and feelings about the LGBT movement.


Greg Bokar (GB): How long have you been at CWRU and what positions have you held since you have been here?


Liz Roccoforte (LR): I started at CWRU in August of 2009. I was originally hired as the Program Manager for the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity (OIDEO). From July 2010 to June 2012, my time was equally split, between the OIDEO and the LGBT Center. I started as the full-time Director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center on July 1, 2012.


GB: What is your role on campus?


LR: CWRU is lucky to have a large number of people who care about LGBT issues on campus. As the only staff person dedicated to LGBT life on campus, however, I see my role as threefold.

First, I am responsible for a part-time student staff of seven terrific undergraduates. Together, we maintain the beautiful and welcoming space that is the LGBT Center in Thwing and provide programs, support groups, and events for the LGBTA-identified students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Second, I sit on a variety of committees and maintain good working relationships with many offices and departments to make sure that the LGBT community is represented in programs, policies, and procedure creation. Finally, I am responsible for the Safe Zone program, which assists allies in the creation of safe and welcoming spaces.


GB: What do you believe the LGBT Center can offer students?


LR: The LGBT Center is a welcoming and safe space for CWRU’s LGBT and allied community. The center’s spacious and beautifully renovated location in Thwing West is good place for people simply to meet for lunch or to study, as well as a good place to meet and talk with other LGBT people. Everyone is welcome at the LGBT Center, and if you are interested in LGBT life and culture, come peruse our free magazine selection or check out a book or an LGBT-related film.


GB: Do you believe that the LGBT community or culture has changed on campus in recent years? If so, in what ways?


LR: When I started at the university in 2010, the campus had already accomplished some incredible work regarding LGBT inclusiveness, such as including sexual orientation and gender expression and identity in its anti-discrimination policy, as well as offering partner benefits for same-gender partners. Many, many people on campus, including my incredibly supportive boss, Dr. Lynn Singer, and the LGBT Campus Committee, worked on the implementation of these policies.

As a result, I believe that when I started at the LGBT Center, CWRU was truly ready to take the next step. The campus’s readiness is evidenced by the amount of support that I receive from a diverse group of people on an almost a daily basis from across campus. President Snyder cut the ribbon when the LGBT Center opened in the fall of 2010 and the positive symbolic nature of that gesture isn’t lost on me or other LGBT community members.

Since 2010, we’ve moved forward with some policy and procedural measures, specifically around transgender inclusiveness. I have found that the majority of people I speak with are open to listening and making changes. It’s my hope that the Safe Zone program, originally started in the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity in 2010, thanks to Dr. Marilyn Mobley, has made a difference. I’m proud to say that we have over 400 Safe Zone members on campus and that I’ve facilitated workshops for a myriad of groups, from Greek Life, to the Registrar’s Office, to Athletics.


GB: What advice do you give to students on a daily basis that could benefit the whole campus community?


LR: First, I know it sounds cliché, but be proud of who you are. Your uniqueness is your strength. Second, speak out against injustice and prejudice. Even if it just means calling your friend on an offensive joke, you can make a difference.


GB: What more work do you think still needs to be done on campus?


LR: While we have made incredible progress at CWRU, there is still work to be done. I continue to hear about trans-phobic remarks or actions on a regular basis. I also know that there are staff and faculty who are fearful of coming out in their department because they are concerned about discrimination. Also, we still hear from LGBT students of color that their experience is made doubly difficult at times. I think that this is our biggest challenge – to continue to work on creating a LGBT-inclusive campus while always acknowledging the ways that homophobia, racism, sexism, and classism are intertwined. As Audre Lorde says, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”


LR: What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is struggling with an LGBT-related issue?


GB: You aren’t alone. You are supported and valued at CWRU. Come to the LGBT Center and meet some of the student staff and hear about their experiences. Email me or call me – my door is always open. Or find a Safe Zone ally or a supportive friend. Take advantage of the stellar and LGBT-knowledgeable staff at the Counseling Center; they are an incredible resource on campus.

Finally, if you’ve had a negative experience, please know that there is a whole cadre of caring LGBT and allied community members here at CWRU and you can count on us to support you and celebrate you for who you are.

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