Center of the community
GSEC focuses on support for women and LGBTQ+ students, but accepts everyone
Growing up in the small, Central Valley town of San Andreas, Adrien Macias felt a distinct disconnection from most of the people around her.
“It was rough,” Macias recalled recently during an interview at the Associated Students’ Gender and Sexuality Equity Center, located in the basement of Bell Memorial Union at Chico State. “I never even saw other people like me … people who were queer didn’t really talk about it, and there wasn’t a very large community of people of color. As a kid, I didn’t really recognize identity politics or what it means to be different.”
Then, as a freshman at Chico State in 2015, Macias ran across a GSEC information table and felt compelled to stop into the center.
“It changed everything for me,” Macias said. “I’d been searching for people that I could relate to, not just as a queer person of color, but because of the issues I think are important and the topics I wanted to study. This is where I found a community, support and friends. That’s given me the strength to overcome barriers I feel like I faced growing up and to flourish … in my identity, my academics, everything.”
Macias eventually got an internship at GSEC and is now starting a second year as the center’s outreach coordinator. Macias initially began pursuing a degree in sociology, but after working at GSEC became inspired to add a second major in multicultural and gender studies: “I’ve come to realize that working for social justice is everything to me. It’s what I want to do the rest of my life—to promote equity and the treatment of others the way they should be treated.”
That, in a nutshell, sums up a large part of GSEC’s core mission, and it’s one that can be traced back more than 40 years. GSEC began in 2011 and evolved from the university’s Women’s Center, which was founded in 1971. It’s more than just a physical place at which to gather—it’s also an activist organization deeply rooted in feminist politics.
The jump to GSEC was “an effort to further promote human rights and the equal representation of marginalized students,” according to the center’s Facebook page. To accomplish that goal, the group added three new programs—queer, trans and outreach—to the original women’s program.
“Some of the main things we provide are a safe space for folks of any identity and experience to come, to find resources or referrals for on- or off-campus support,” said GSEC Director Rachel Ward. “Anyone can come here in times of crisis or when they’re experiencing a hard situation, whether it be related to the LGBTQ-plus experience or as a woman, or no matter how a person identifies.”
Ward said the center also provides help for victims of sexual assault and women’s health resources, and is a place where those interested in social justice and equity can find a like-minded community.
“On the outside looking in, it might look like a lot of rainbows,” she said. “But we’re here to provide a safe space and resource center for all students, staff, faculty, anyone. We have an open-door policy and love to see new faces.”
Ward said GSEC has been especially busy since last November, when people emboldened by President Trump began to openly air hateful rhetoric, or worse. She said people have come to the center saying they’ve had slurs, and even rocks, thrown at them, and there have been anti-abortion demonstrations by religious extremists on campus: “Coming from feminist roots, we’ve always responded to any act or threat of harm, emotional or physical. When we become aware of something like that, we’ll be there within an hour to send a different message.”