Barry McNamara  |  Published September 20, 2022

The Rainbow Room

SOFIA project leads to creation of safe space for LGBTQ+ community. 

RAINBOW ROOM: Participants in the College's SOFIA program gathered in the new space shortly a... RAINBOW ROOM: Participants in the College's SOFIA program gathered in the new space shortly after its completion.“Queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere.” – Adam Eli, author of The New Queer Conscience

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Last month, a group of Monmouth College students shouldered the responsibility addressed by Adam Eli and created a new space on campus for the school’s LGBTQ+ community.

The Rainbow Room, located in Room 135 of the Center for Science and Business and adjacent to the suite of psychology department offices, was the result of a SOFIA project directed by psychology professor Sydney Greenwalt.

Formally identified as Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities, the SOFIA program gives students the opportunity to work on intensive research in an area of interest for the three weeks prior to the beginning of the classes.

“(Creating the room) wasn’t included when I signed up, but Professor Greenwalt brought it up the first day,” said Izzy McDermott ’26 of Evanston, Illinois, one of the incoming students who took part in Greenwalt’s section of the program. “Once I knew we were doing it, I was really excited. I thought it would be really fun to put a room like this together and that our students would use it.”

‘I love this room’

Both McDermott and Greenwalt said the room received a lot of student use during the first month since its opening.

“If you were to stop by the room today, you’d see a note on the whiteboard that someone left within the last two days that says, ‘I love this room,’” said Greewalt. “Students are excited and proud to have contributed to creating a welcoming space on this campus.”

“If you were to stop by the room today, you’d see a note on the whiteboard that someone left within the last two days that says, ‘I love this room.’ Students are excited and proud to have contributed to creating a welcoming space on this campus.” Sydney Greenwalt

McDermott said: “A lot of kids have come up to me to tell me how much they like the room. There’ve been upperclassmen who’ve expressed their gratitude for the room, and they say they can’t wait to spend time in it. It’s a good feeling to know that we created this and to help with giving our queer students some sort of hope.”

The bright room features its share of rainbow colors, including a pair of canvases created by SOFIA students, with one bearing the aforementioned Eli quotation.

“What took the most time was painting the canvases, which we did along with the SOFIA art group,” said McDermott, who noted that a work in progress in the room is its “little library,” which she hopes will continue to grow. “We’re trying to expand it. It has books about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Eli’s quotation “serves as a reminder that we hold a deep and rich history that extends beyond Monmouth College and across the world,” said Greenwalt.

In addition to the library, the room includes resources on best ways to support trans and non-binary students in the classroom, as well as information on Safe Zone training that will help facilitate a safer campus for all LGBTQ+ students.

Part of a larger effort

Greenwalt said the SOFIA project was part of a larger, ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion initiative on campus “to embody Monmouth College’s commitment to a welcoming, inclusive and equitable environment for all members of our community.”

STUDENT AND MENTOR: Izzy McDermott, left, is an incoming Monmouth student who used the SOFIA expe... STUDENT AND MENTOR: Izzy McDermott, left, is an incoming Monmouth student who used the SOFIA experience as a way to get a head start on college. The returning student mentor for the project was Kaid Landon '24, who is currently studying abroad.“The project responded to the charge to research best practices and make individual and institutional recommendations by gathering the voice of our College and turning them into action,” she said. “As part of an LGBTQ+ Student Needs Assessment, students indicated the importance of a safe space on campus where being LGBTQ+ was intrinsically valued and uplifted. Thus, the Rainbow Room initiative was created.”

Those making use of the room will find comfortable furniture in which to relax, a miniature refrigerator and a table where they can work and gather.

“To me, this space serves to allow LGBTQ+ students to feel a deeper sense of visibility and belonging at Monmouth College,” said Greenwalt. “It is a beautiful blend of institutional support tied with student engagement that provides our students with a sense of pride and a greater sense of connection to Monmouth College.”

“The project and SOFIA were much more than I expected coming in,” said McDermott. “It really made me feel like I got a head start on college.”

The Rainbow Room has already become home to one student organization – SAGA, which stands for Sexuality and Gender Alliance.

“SAGA meets here at 5 p.m. on Fridays,” said McDermott. “We’re always looking for new people. It’s just hanging out with a bunch of friends.”

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