The first thing you see when entering the Student Alumni Union (SAU) is a big rainbow flag with a panel besides it that states, “The Rainbow or Pride flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker as a symbol of unity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This flag is raised to honor past, present, and future gender and sexual minorities at RIT, as well as the allies who support them.”
The Pride Flag installation in the SAU
As years progressed, this flag became a normal part of RIT life; greeting everyone who walked into the SAU with vibrant rainbow colors. It is the simple act of installing this flag that has spoken for RIT’s inclusive community, which was the vision Dr. Chris Henry Hinesley, the person who successfully led the Pride Project with the help of the RIT community.
Dr. Chris Henry Hinesley
The idea came to him after admiring the many flags that hang in the SAU in 2011. “I realized there wasn’t a Pride flag and started asking questions,” says Dr. Hinesley. The questions traveled, as many did not know how to answer such a question. This wasn’t something thought of before, but Dr. Hinesley persisted.
Eventually, this idea made it’s way to Carol Reed who streamlined it right to the Campus Aesthetics Committee. “It was perfect timing as the space was already going to be cleared,” mentioned Dr. Hinesley. He envisioned a small flag in a glass case to ensure it was protected from vandalism and theft, but the committee insisted on something bigger with no case.
In a time where LGBTQIA identities were accepted but still a difficult discussion, Dr. Hinesley worried about the response to this flag being put up. However, in the time since, he never heard anything bad about it. In fact, he’s known it to be a beneficial presence for current and future students. On the impact of students, Dr. Hinesley remembers, “students telling me when they saw the flag during campus visits, they immediately transferred or decided to come here.”
First visions of the Pride flag in the SAU
Since the flag has been installed, the LGBTQIA community at RIT has seen great change. A leader and an advocate, Dr. Hinesley finds himself busy working with departments across campus to ensure proper protocol is in place to respect the identity of students, faculty and staff. Adding preferred names into the system, creating gender inclusive bathrooms, and SafeZone training for over 1,000 people every year is just some of the ways RIT is creating a more inclusive environment for the community.
Throughout his time at RIT, Dr. Hinesley was most pleased by how supportive and open RIT is when it comes to implementing change that positively impacts LGBTQIA students. “There are a number of times where faculty and staff would approach me with questions to ensure they’re doing the right thing.” This attitude is what inspired the creation of Q Center Advisory Team (QCAT), where faculty from all across RIT can become more involved with the center. A complete list of those on the advisory can be found here.
As Pride Month continues, the flag in the SAU serves as a reminder to the kind of campus RIT is; one that strives for diversity and inclusiveness in its function and community.