This fall, LGBTQ students at the University of Richmond came back to several new campus resources, including a lounge space in Tyler Haynes Commons, and a dedicated staff member in the Office of Common Ground.

Ted Lewis, the University’s first associate director for LGBTQ campus life, is tasked with developing and administering LGBTQ, social justice, and civic engagement programming for students, faculty, staff, and the community. His role is not only the first of its kind for the University, but also for the Richmond region.

Lewis talks about the challenges and expectations going into his first year at Richmond.

How does your role fit with other services offered on campus?

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) deals with underrepresented students along the lines of race and ethnicity. The chaplaincy supports students in terms of religion, faith, or non-faith. Common Ground is concerned with an overarching view of diversity, inclusion, and social justice — how we train students to talk across difference, and prepare them for a world where not everyone looks and thinks like them.

Common Ground saw a need to specifically work with the LGBTQ community. With The Richmond Promise, the University is thinking about not just how we look on paper, but also how we are realistically supporting students, faculty, and staff on campus.

What do you have planned for your first year?

My hope is that LGBTQ campus life will infuse its way into other common experiences here on campus. The speakers we’re bringing (for LGBTQ History Month), for example, are part of the LGBT community. But Staceyann Chin deals with femininity and what it means to be a woman, and S. Bear Bergmann deals with masculinity. It fits really nicely with Westhampton College and Richmond College conversations.

I’m also working to connect students, faculty and staff. The Queer Book Club is a great example of that. They can come together and have conversations and connect. The last piece is community engagement. We have a partnership with the Fan Free Clinic in town to do HIV testing on campus, and with ROSMY, which works with LGBTQ youth to invite them to our programming. The goal is to ensure that the community partnerships are mutually beneficial.

What are you picturing for the LGBTQ lounge?

We’re viewing it as a student hangout place. LGBTQ is an identity group that’s not always visible — you can’t tell by looking at someone. Other students who are from underrepresented areas may be able to find a cohort of friends simply by looking for people who look like them. So the lounge provides a designated space they know is for them. It’s the same way that religious students know that the chaplaincy is a place for them to express their faith and be safe. The OMA is a place where students of color can go. Athletes have the gym. Fraternity and sorority members have the lodges and the beautiful new sorority cottages. Carving out this little corner adds another layer to those spaces.

What’s going to be exciting and challenging about being the first dedicated LGBTQ staff member, both at the University and in the city?

The University is poised to do some really cutting-edge things because the foundation is already in place. We have the non-discrimination policy changed to be inclusive. We have same-sex partner benefits for faculty and staff. We have two strong LGBTQ student groups. We have a women, gender, and sexuality studies program that looks at this from an academic lens. The tools are already here for us to build something really amazing.

But there’s always a fear that not everybody wants to see that built. When you’re talking about this stuff, you’re talking about sex — and that’s a hard conversation to have. People often run immediately to sex and sexual behavior, instead of engaging about identity. I think that’s why people are afraid to talk about it. My experience so far at the campus and in the community is that people are ready to have the conversation. I hope that I can bring tools to frame the conversation in a different way and expertise of what types of conversations we need to have.