Keanu Balani wasn’t sure what university to attend until they met Raja Bhattar on a tour of the LGBT Campus Resource Center. Bhattar gave them a warm welcome, and their hospitality was the reason Balani decided to attend UCLA.
“It’s actually so pivotal because I would not be at UCLA if it weren’t for (Bhattar); I’d be at a different school,” said Balani, a second-year political science student and volunteer at the LGBTQ center.
Last week marked the end of Bhattar’s seven years as the LGBTQ center’s director. Bhattar is transitioning to the position of assistant vice provost and executive director of the Center for Identity + Inclusion at the University of Chicago.
As the UCLA LGBTQ center’s director, Bhattar advocated on behalf of transgender students and highlighted intersectionality and inclusivity within marginalized communities by leading UCLA LGBTQ allyship training sessions.
The program helps introduce individuals on campus to the LGBTQ community by teaching participants about gender and sexual identity terminology and ways to recognize stereotypes, according to its website. Bhattar said they think these kinds of programs support students at the intersection of various identities.
Bhattar also served on University of California President Janet Napolitano’s LGBTQ advisory council in 2014 and worked on processing LGBTQ data collections for the UC system so the University could better understand the community.
Saeromi Kim, the interim director of the LGBTQ center, said she thinks Bhattar was successful in bringing different groups together.
“I think (Bhattar) has done so much in connecting us to a wider Los Angeles community, connecting us to all the different works and departments here on campus,” she said.
Kim, who worked at Counseling and Psychological Services, said she bonded with Bhattar over their mutual interest in mental health in LGBTQ communities. She added she worked with Bhattar to incorporate CAPS into the LGBTQ center by establishing a counselor-in-residence position at the center and discussing ways to promote mental health.
Kyla Worrell, a co-director of the center’s Transgender UCLA Pride program, said Bhattar lobbied the university to allow individuals to use their preferred name on their BruinCards and install all-gender restrooms on campus.
Worrell, a second-year Asian American studies and world arts and cultures student, added they hope the center’s new director will represent the larger LGBTQ community as well as Bhattar did.
Bhattar said obtaining a preferred name option for BruinCards was an issue they worked on for almost four years.
“We as a university have bureaucratic systems and policies that I think are intended to support the process and provide some protocol and organization, and I think just trying figure out how to work through that (has) definitely been a journey,” Bhattar said.
Arlene Reynolds, a first-year mathematics student and LGBTQ center volunteer, said they hope the new director will follow in Bhattar’s footsteps and facilitate a comfortable environment for the community.
“I think there’s always progress to be made,” they said. “You can never stop changing and evolving and getting better.”
Paola Rodriguez, a third-year nursing student and LGBTQ center office operations intern, said she thinks Bhattar was passionate about the students in the center.
“It’s hard to find someone in a position like director where they really care about you and genuinely want you to succeed,” Rodriguez said. “(Bhattar) made you feel that they always had time to talk to you, even if they were running around all over the place.”
Bhattar said they will be overseeing a broader range of programs at the University of Chicago. Although Bhattar is excited to explore the new opportunity, they said they plan to return to Los Angeles often to visit those they care about.
“This is not a ‘goodbye,’” they said. “This is simply a ‘see you later,’ and UCLA’s always going to be home.”