History of the Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

In February of 1988, the former President of Rutgers University, Edward J. Bloustein, created the President’s Select Committee for Lesbian-Gay Concerns which addressed the issues of gay and lesbian students as well as University faculty/staff members. In 1988, the Select Committee for Lesbian and Gay Concerns assembled and presented specific courses of action the university could take to seriously mitigate the injustices directed towards LGBT people on campus.

The first objective of the Select Committee for Lesbian and Gay Concerns was to establish an Office for Gay and Lesbian Concerns with a minimum of a one full-time staff member, which would monitor the implementation of policies aimed at creating an environment free of fear, violence, or harassment. In 1992, the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian and Gay Concerns was founded under the direction of Dr. Cheryl Clarke.

In Fall 2005, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs renamed and restructured the former Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian Gay Concerns. This unit became the Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities (SJE).During the Fall 2009 semester, the Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities relocated from Bartlett Street to a new space on Livingston Campus in Tillett Hall, where it was rebranded as the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities Resource Center. The Center now currently resides at 17 Bartlett Street, on the College Avenue Campus.

Rutgers University-New Brunswick has a long history of student advocacy predating the creation of a formal center. To learn more, see our full timeline below of important events beginning in the sixties and the creation of the Rutgers Student Homophile League.

Rutgers University LGBTQA History Timeline

1969 Sophomore Lionel Cuffie establishes the Rutgers Student Homophile League on the College Avenue campus in New Brunswick. It was the first openly gay organizations in New Jersey, the first post-Stonewall campus-based gay liberation organization, and one of the oldest organizations on a college campus nationwide. Over time, the league evolved into the Rutgers Gay Alliance, The Rutgers Gay and Lesbian Alliance, The Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance of Rutgers University (BiGLARU) and is now known as the Queer Student Alliance (QSA)

1970 The League sets up office in the College Avenue Student Center and holds weekly meetings on the College Avenue campus and discussion groups and socials on the Busch and Douglass campuses.

1974 The Rutgers Homophile League holds its first Blue Jeans Day to raise awareness about gay and lesbian issues among the student population. Across the Daily Targum and on high traffic areas of campus, League members invited anyone who identified as lesbian or gay to wear blue jeans in order to be counted as such. The goal of the program was to point out stereotypes and to normalize the gay experience on campus.

1976 The School of Law-Newark organizes the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus to represent LGBT interests and raise awareness on campus. The caucus also encourages the study of law affecting the LGBT community.

1976 The second Blue Jeans Day is held on the NB campus, however this time the league experienced more explicit pushback from students. Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), a long-standing fraternity at Rutgers College with its founding dating back to 1860, hung a fake body by a noose in front of their house on College Avenue holding a sign that read “The only good gay is a dead gay — back to your closets homos.” The administration did remove the effigy after allowing it to hang for four hours, however, the fraternity was not officially punished for their actions.

1979 The Rutgers Gay Alliance (formerly the Student Homophile League) decides to hold another Blue Jeans Day, despite pushback in years past. This time instead of a mannequin hung by a noose, DKE simply hung two signs from their windows that read “sodomy is a pain in the ass” and, in support of anti-gay celebrity Anita Bryant and her political agenda, “Anita – DEKE loves you.” For the first time in this continually contentious exchange, RGA marched to the DKE house to protest the fraternity’s actions in person. One of the protesters was struck with a rock from the DKE lawn during the demonstration. The campus erupted in dissension, especially within the pages of the student newspapers, with activists demanding an official sanction on the fraternity. Even though the fraternity members denied throwing the rock, the administration did investigate the incident in addition to conducting a review of all Greek-affiliated organizations and their practices on campus.

1981 Rutgers adopts policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, amending anti-discrimination policies first adopted in 1974.

1983 In 1983 that Dr. Cheryl Clarke, a noted Black, lesbian, poet, scholar, and Rutgers College administrator became the official advisor to RULGA (Rutgers Univerisity Lesbian and Gay Alliance). She was the first Rutgers College affiliated advisor to the group.

1985 Lionel Cuffie, who had gone on to study at Harvard University, succumbed to AIDS related complications in 1985. His death deeply impacted the Rutgers community, and his former peers commemorated his legacy by contributing a quilt piece in his name to the famous NAMES project. He was one of many Rutgers alumni, students, faculty, and staff to lose their lives in the epidemic and to be featured in the quilt.

1987 As the AIDS epidemic continued to deeply impact the country, the campus growingly became more hostile for LGBT students. At the same time, students on campus grew increasingly more political and civically engaged. A series of hate crimes resulted in a student demand for a campus climate study of the LGBT experience. Dr. Susan Cavin’s 1987 campus climate study answered the student demand to have their true campus experiences known. The survey revealed that the majority of gay and lesbian students experienced harassment or violence from their peers, and sometimes from faculty and staff members. All research conducted by college faculty had to go through both review and approval from the institutional research board, and after the results were collected, the institutional board demanded that all of the data be stricken from any record and the study abandoned. Dr. Cavin refused but did concede to removing all responses from faculty and staff.

1988 President Edward J. Bloustein establishes the President’s Select Committee for Lesbian-Gay Concerns and directs the New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden provosts to identify a student affairs staff member to assume responsibility for lesbian and gay concerns. These liaisons were responsible for protecting the interests of lesbians and gay men, and later bisexual and transgender individuals, at Rutgers.

1989 David Nichols and Morris J. Kafka-Hozschlag publish “The Rutgers University Lesbian/Gay Alliance, 1969-1989: The First Twenty Five Years,” a special issue of The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries.

1991 Organized in conjunction with Princeton University, Rutgers hosts the Fifth Annual Lesbian and Gay Studies Conference.

1992 Rutgers creates the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian and Gay Concerns, under the direction of Cheryl Clarke, on the New Brunswick Campus.

1996 The University Senate votes to include “gender identity and expression” in Rutgers’ non-discrimination policy.

1997 LLEGO, a student LGBTQQIA People of Color Union is founded at Rutgers University-New Brunswick

1998 The university hosts its first Rainbow Graduation Celebration to honor the achievements of LBGT students, and presents the first Lionel Cuffie Award for Activism and Excellence. The award is given each year at Rainbow Graduation to a Rutgers student who embraces the activism and human dignity that marked Cuffie’s life.

2005 Vice President for Student Affairs Gregory Blimling establishes the Gender Identity Taskforce to assist the three Rutgers campuses in creating more welcoming environments for LGBT students.The Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian and Gay Concerns is renamed the Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities on the New Brunswick Campus.

2006 The Gender Identity Taskforce issues a report with recommendations for short- and long-term changes.

2008 The Rutgers non-discrimination policy is updated to include transgender individuals. The Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities hires Jenny Kurtz to coordinate and consolidate university efforts to enhance the quality of life for LGBT students on the New Brunswick Campus.

2009 On the New Brunswick Campus, the Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities expands training workshops on gender identity to departments across the university and moves its office from Bartlett Street on the College Avenue Campus to larger quarters in Tillett Hall on the Livingston Campus. The Office is renamed the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities. With the help of alumnus Bill Matthews, Rutgers registers its first official LGBTQA alumni group, RUBiGLATA. Partnering with the Rutgers University Foundation and the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, RUBiGLATA establishes the Rutgers LGBT Leadership Scholarship.

2010 Rutgers awards its first LGBT Leadership Scholarships to two undergraduate students. Demarest Hall on the New Brunswick Campus becomes the first residence hall to have a multi-stall gender-neutral restroom. In September, the suicides of several LGBTQ youth—including Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi—spark a national conversation about the ongoing challenges facing LGBTQ youth. On the New Brunswick Campus, the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities partner with the Asian American Cultural Center to establish BRIDGE, a weekly dialogue for LGBTQ and ally identified Asian American students to discuss LGBTQ issues in Asian and Pacific Islander American communities.

2011 Rutgers starts the academic year with three new housing initiatives in place: an LGBTQA roommate matching option for first-year students, a gender neutral housing option for upper-class students, and Rainbow Perspectives, a special interest section for students interested in LGBTQA issues. The LGBTQ and Diversity Resource Center hires Maren Greathouse to coordinate and consolidate university efforts to enhance the quality of life for LGBT students on the Newark Campus. On the Camden Campus, Rutgers University begins implementing Safe Zone trainings to increase LGBTQ awareness and allyship out of the Office of the Deans of Students.

2012 The Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities hires Zaneta Rago as an Assistant Director to help further expand education and programs for the New Brunswick Campus. Rutgers begins the new academic year with a score of 5 out of 5 from Campus Pride’s Campus Climate Index, a national assessment tool on campus climate for LGBTQ students.The Institute for Research on Women, on the New Brunswick Campus, hosts a year-long seminar on “Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normativities.”

2013 In collaboration with The Tyler Clementi Foundation, Rutgers University establishes the Tyler Clementi Center, which is dedicated to sharing knowledge about young people making the transition to college and coming of age in the digital era. Zaneta Rago-Craft becomes the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities’ 3rd director following the departure of Jenny Kurtz. Campus Pride and The Huffington Post include Rutgers University in its list of “Top 25 LGBT-Friendly Colleges in the Country.”

2014 Gender-inclusive housing options and transgender-inclusive health insurance are added to Rutgers offerings.

2015 A preferred name system is instituted at Rutgers New Brunswick, allowing transgender students to utilize their chosen names across several Rutgers systems.