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Rutgers 'Breathing Room' offers students space to connect, relax

Photo Illustration | The Rutgers Breathing Room allows lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other students discuss issues in a judgement-free zone.
Photo by Edwin GanoPhoto Illustration | The Rutgers Breathing Room allows lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other students discuss issues in a judgement-free zone.

Sometimes, all you need is a little room to breathe.

"Breathing Room," a weekly peer-listening group, hosts small-group discussion sessions for those looking to connect with others in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said Zaneta Rago-Craft, director of Student Affairs at the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities.

The goal of Breathing Room is to host a non-judgmental open space where conversations can come up naturally, said Julia Pennick, a student in the Graduate School of Social Work. Students are free to discuss whatever topic comes to mind.

Rago-Craft and Pennick are facilitators of the peer group.

Now in its fourth year, the program has moved to a new location this year, Rago-Craft said.

The biggest issue organizing these meetings for the new semester was due to the location change, Pennick said.

“I worried that students who were attending would be unable to make the move with us,” she said. “To the contrary, the move has been of a benefit and we both have familiar faces and new participants each week.”

The University is already home to many LGBT-affiliated organizations, including several student-run groups, as well as the Center, said Sabrina Gattuso, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

“The current LGBT resources on campus are good,” she said. “But if they have group activities (or) group sessions, that might be better.”

Breathing Room aims to “facilitate a community of supportive peers within the larger University,” Pennick said. And students are able to engage with one another regarding topics important to their individuality.

Pennick was motivated to join Breathing Room’s community because of her work in graduate school. She received an internship with the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, and was asked to facilitate the group's weekly discussion.

“I find that the support of hearing from one's peers is a powerful space in which individuals can feel comfortable and grow together, which is one of the reasons I am passionate about holding this space and seeing the group grow each week,” Pennick said.

It is a “drop-in” space, meaning students can come in at any point in the group and join, Rago-Craft said. Attendance ranges from 10 to 15 people every week.

All members of the group are anonymous to any outsiders, granting students a greater transparency, Pennick and Rago-Craft said.

"(Students) can come and feel a part of a community larger than themselves, and if needed, ask for thoughts or advice on any situation they may be going through,” Pennick said.

Some weeks are dedicated to reducing student stress levels and relaxing with friends. Other weeks are centered around discussions about current events, Rago-Craft said. Sometimes Breathing Room is used as a “sounding board” for students questioning their sexuality and/or gender identity, or those navigating experiences like coming out.

This type of program is helpful for allowing students to explore their individual identities and helping them move into those identities, Gattuso said.

The most valuable contributions to the group can sometimes be from the members themselves, Craft said.

“Often students will bring in their own experiences, and try to find commonality and advice with others who have been through similar experiences,” Rago-Craft said.


Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @Hasanabanana for more.