Northern Arizona University junior Noah Alegria always felt out of place—his family and friends were not accepting when he came out as a trans man two years ago.
“It took me a while to realize that in the end, it’s my life,” he said. “I don’t want to live the way others think I should just because it will make them happy.”
Though the hormones he took helped him feel more like himself, he was completely alone, with no support system to help him through this difficult transition.
Then, he discovered The Office of Inclusion: Multicultural & LGBTQIA Student Services, or IMQ for short.
“This office is the NAU campus hub for student diversity and inclusion programming, services and support,” director Ivy Banks said. “From student to community engagement, IMQ connects the larger community to our rich cultural communities as well as helps students learn more about different members of our NAU community.”
Alegria heard some students talking about IMQ in one of his classes and figured it was worth checking out. What he discovered was more than just a center—it was an escape.
Open to all NAU students, IMQ provides a comfortable gathering space for lounging between classes; diverse cultural programming celebrating the rich heritages of NAU students; peer mentoring through the Inclusion & Diversity Scholars program; and a host of student organizations, ranging from the Rainbow Coalition to the Black Student Union. In addition, the center offers an array of services, including discounted printing, weekly forums, daily movies and engaging dialogue.
But this safe haven was experiencing a problem: the center was too popular.
The center, whose lobby was often standing room only, was outgrowing its small room in the University Union. Something had to be done. Banks knew the university was committed to diversity and inclusion, so she reached out to someone she knew could help.
“When I stepped into my role last year, the leaders of our student organizations and I sat down with President Rita Cheng,” Banks said. “The students shared their desire to have a new space where they could feel supported and have plenty of room to grow.”
The students were heard.
A few locations across campus were considered, but only one checked all the boxes—the former Fieldhouse, previously the Kaibab, Transfer & Commuter Connections and ASNAU Headquarters. It offered exactly what they were looking for: a centralized location in close proximity to the services that support students; a comfortable, inviting space; and most importantly, somewhere the office could grow.
“IMQ supports students and serves as a safe space for anyone and everyone no matter their race, religion, color, gender and sexual orientation,” said junior Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa, a Native American student. “This new space will allow us to continue growing in our student services and population.”
The space, which is nearly three times the size of the old one, is under construction; they hope to have the new furniture in by the start of the spring semester and be open shortly after that. It will include an expanded student space, a rainbow lounge, study area and programming center with computers and monitors. Students also can arrange to host meetings and events in the space.
Alegria, who now works part-time at the center, looks forward to more events where he can meet and bond with other individuals within his community.
“I finally have a place where I can come and connect with other LGBT individuals like me,” he said. “I have always felt welcome here, and it’s made me realize I wasn’t alone in my transition or with my family issues.”
“The space, students and staff make me feel welcomed and valued every time I enter the office. It is definitely a place where I feel like I can truly be myself. It’s a place I can call home.”