On Thursday afternoon, the OUTreach Resource Center held its annual Rainbow Open House event to welcome new and old faces back for another semester of programming. Providing discussion groups, social events and Safe Zone training since 2010, the center operates on private donation and partial contribution from the Vice Chancellor for Diversity's office. Since its founding, director Donna Braquet has watched the OUTreach LGBT and Ally Resource Center grow and transform.

"We serve as a physical symbol of being welcoming on campus for LGBT and ally issues. We serve as an educational piece," Braquet said. "We also bring about awareness to other people by doing things like National Coming Out Day and Lavendar Graduation. "So we're not only serving as a support system for students who identify as LGBT, but also trying to bring awareness and education to the rest of the campus."Braquet said an alum recently asked to see the center, lamenting that such an institution did not exist when she was a student.

"We've gotten donations from other alums, too and so it means a lot to them," Barquet said. "They would've wanted this when they were here but they're happy its here now."As the center's primary staff member, graduate student Charlie Clifton emphasizes the importance of facilitating "a safe environment."

"The center itself is supposed to be safe space on campus," Clifton said. "That's the main function of it – to provide a safe space for LGBTQQIA individuals. But you can also check out books, DVDs and you can come and study."

The upcoming academic year includes new developments for the OUTreach Center including a tailgate for alumni during Homecoming Week, a professional LGBT mentoring network and a new ambassador program, which will begin accepting applications in December.

"It's basically a group of students that'll provide information about the center to other students," Clifton said. "Just being advocates of the center and to provide tables for events or do panels."Additionally, Barquet plans to have an Ally Week, featuring a photography project sponsored by the center.

"We're going to be out on pedestrian walkway and ask people to take photos and sign a banner saying they're an ally and make a big poster to represent that and show students, questioning or not ... how many people on campus support them and are welcoming," she said. In the OUTreach Center, it is this mutual acceptance and respect that gathers students together. While the Open House may, for some, be only a chance to grab some food and catch up with old friends, for others, it is their first introduction to a network of tolerant, protective friends.

For further involvement, Clifton recommended coming into the OUTreach center or joining the Lamba Student Union. Upcoming events include a documentary series, discussion groups and evening pizza parties.

The LGBT Resource Center can be liked on Facebook at www.facebook.com/outreachutk and followed on Twitter @OUTreachUTK. All students are encouraged to stop by for a visit every week day from noon until four, and until six on Wednesdays.

The Lambda Student Union can also be contacted through Facebook and Twitter.