March 23, 2019 | 36° F

'Breathing Room' offers an alternative to traditional group therapy for LGBT Rutgers students


Mondays at 6 p.m., students can gather at 17 Bartlett St. to participate in Breathing Room focuses on weekly LGBT topics to encourage student discourse. This week, the organization discussed Ally Week, a national effort to encourage students to be allied with the LGBT community.

As an alternative to traditional group therapy, the Rutgers Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities (SJE) encourages students to stop by the Breathing Room, an open space dedicated to having discussions about everyday issues with collaborative solutions.

Mondays at 6 p.m. students meet at 17 Bartlett St., the home of SJE, and spend approximately an hour discussing anything they want to share focused around the weekly topic. This week was Ally Week.

Graduate Program Coordinator Jonathan Schaffer said the event functions as a facilitated space to speak about topics relevant to student lives, but also to vent about anything and everything together.

“It’s not exactly a support group or group therapy, it doesn’t have the same structure but it still is a great place to come to,” he said.

Breathing Room focuses on weekly topics to encourage student discourse, some of which match activities happening inside or around the organization, Schaffer said. This week focused on Ally Week, as the center prepares for upcoming events like Ally Keynote Speaker, Franchesca Ramsey.

He said in prior weeks they have focused on topics like coming out and finding community. As they transition into the coming week, the focus will shift onto transgender issues and awareness.

Group discussions can go anywhere, and at times they touch on the political climate, Schaffer said. It is a reality the group cannot avoid and impacts a lot of the conversation.

During midterms and finals, the group emphasizes the “breath” in Breathing Room with exercises and take home crafts for students to divert their stress, Schaffer said.

The event brings in a lot of new people, he said. Often times students visit Breathing Room and come back or attend other events around the many groups that constitute the LGBT community on campus.

“I wouldn’t say there is one 'the' LGBT community here, because it assumes a lot of homogeneity among us,” he said. “We can’t just be the one voice, especially with so many other organizations on campus.”

At the end of each session, students offer a word or short phrase to how they feel, Schaffer said. Usually, these are comical, but every so often the group hears that something really good has happened.

“If you think this is a space for you, please come,” he said.

The group often refers students to centers outside of New Brunswick, said Beckham Duffy, an undergraduate intern for SJE. Many of the topics discussed by the group can be found at other support groups on campus and in the New York-Philadelphia area.

Students who feel the center is not providing enough or find it easier to attend a different location are free to contact the center for assistance, Duffy said.

“Personally, I think Breathing Room is beneficial just because sometimes you engage with new ideas that you’re not used to, and it’s always good to hear other people’s opinions and learning from that,” he said.

Duffy said that in his time at SJE he has been to various groups and would not have found many of his friends and community as easily were it not for the center.

“I feel like I want to give back to the center because it has given me so much,” he said.

Despite the group’s efforts to stand out on campus, they still find a lot of people who do not come to the center, Duffy said. They are not discouraged by this and continue to see their work facilitating conversations as an important asset to the community.

“Even though Rutgers is a big place you can always find a community here. It makes the openness and almost scariness of a huge university seem very comforting,” he said.

School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Cody Haws said he initially thought Breathing Room would be group therapy and felt it was something he needed. 

After attending, he said he realized it was a judgment-free place to come vent about how bad your week was to people you trust and get to know.

“It’s just been a place to get burdens lifted off of your shoulders,” he said.

Christian Zapata

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