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GALA-ND/SMC hosts fundraiser for LGBTQ scholarships

| Monday, November 23, 2015

About six months after announcing the first two recipients of the LGBTQ Student Scholarship at its biannual Dooley Award Dinner, the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC) hosted a fundraising event Nov. 12 to enable the continued offering of its newly-instituted scholarship.

Jack Bergen, the chair of GALA and a Notre Dame class of 1977 alumnus, said the current estimate is that the fundraiser generated more than $15,000 — a figure significantly exceeding the initial goal of $10,000.

Notre Dame alumni attend a fundraising event in New York City in support of LGBTQ student scholarships for Notre Dame and Saint Mary's.Courtesy of Phil Donohue
Notre Dame alumni attend a fundraising event in New York City in support of LGBTQ student scholarships at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

“I was blown away by the event,” Bergen said. “[This is] the first fundraiser that I’ve done, and I was just amazed at the engagement of the people there, they were so happy that we had held this event.

“ … Unfortunately we had a waiting list of people; we had to actually turn people away — the response was that enthusiastic for the event.”

The fundraiser took place in the New York City penthouse of former talk show host and Notre Dame class of 1957 alumnus Phil Donahue. According to Bergen, more than 80 people — including both alumni and their friends — attended the event.

Bergen said GALA’s current plan is to use the proceeds generated from the event “exclusively for the scholarship fund.”

“Last year we gave out two $2,500 scholarships, and we’re looking at potentially raising that to four $2,500 scholarships and/or we may use some of the money to start to fund the endowment for the scholarship,” he said. “Because we see this as a long-term commitment, we see this as not just a one-time thing that we want to do, but we want to continue to do it for quite a while.”

One of the two recipients of the 2015-2016 scholarship, Saint Mary’s junior Adrienne Whisman said the scholarship — designated exclusively for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s LGBTQ students — is a unique offering because few LGBTQ scholarships are institution-specific; rather, the majority are open to a national pool of applicants.

“I looked it up and realized that it’s a scholarship that I could actually apply for and have a chance of winning, because usually LGBTQ scholarship are national and it’s [around] 1,000 people applying,” she said. “And it’s kind of intimidating.

“… It was kind of like, ‘Wow, there’s actually an alum group where it’s people like me, who have all gotten together to support [LGBTQ students] in our education.’”

Bergen said GALA decided to announce the LGBTQ scholarship earlier this year in response to a recognition that the campus climate in regards to LGBTQ issues has improved over the past few years.

“As an organization, we felt that sufficient progress had been made that we wanted to step up our commitment to help out LGBT students more than we have,” he said. “ … We’re very pleased with the progress that’s been made on campus and as a result we felt that we wanted to do more, as well.”

Among the recent changes that have impacted the University’s and the College’s LGBTQ communities are the extension by both institutions of benefits to same-sex spouses of employees and a concurrent cultural shift on both campuses, Bergen said.

In particular, he said, Notre Dame’s official recognition of PrismND, a student organization founded to serve the University’s LGBTQ community, represents an improvement in the University’s acceptance of its LGBTQ community.

“Certainly for students, Notre Dame’s attitude has changed dramatically with the creation of Prism,” Bergen said. “Students have been trying for many, many years to create a student group that provides support for LGBT students.”

Like Bergen, Notre Dame senior and vice president of PrismND Connor Hayes said LGBTQ students today experience less discrimination than they did several years ago.

“When I talk to my friends who are gay, lesbian, trans alumni of the University, who graduated maybe four or five years ago, when they came in as freshmen it was a much less friendly environment in the dorm towards them,” Hayes said.

“Whereas now, I mean I have occasional incidents that happen, but it’s nothing like what they had to deal with,” he said. “So I think the University has changed in realizing, okay, this is a community that really has needs that need to be addressed on an institutional level, and that’s been a growth and shift in tandem with a greater cultural shift.”

However, Hayes said the situation for LGBTQ community members of Notre Dame is a work in progress, and that moving forward, he would like to see the University recognize GALA as an official alumni association.

“It would be nice if there was a more strong alumni network of gay and lesbian alumni that was officially endorsed by the University,” Hayes said. “ … Just on a personal level, it would be really heartwarming, give me a lot of hope, to see them extend that type of recognition to some sort of alumni group.”

Bergen added that official recognition of GALA would be “an important step forward toward supporting [the University’s] LGBT alumni just as it supports many other alums such as seniors, young alumni, female alumnae, etc.”

“I see this as a partnership that would serve to strengthen the ties between a very loyal alumni constituency, and to help the Alumni Association in its mission to more effectively engage all members of the alumni community,” he said.

According to Dolly Duffy, the executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association and associate vice president of University relations, GALA’s current unofficial status as an alumni group is due in part to its relative newness as an organization.

“We appreciate GALA’s work supporting our LGBTQ alumni through their organization and our students with their scholarship efforts,” Duffy said in an email. “We continue to engage with GALA to learn about their goals. As GALA is a relatively new organization, we have not made any decisions about how we can support them long-term.”

For now, Bergen said, GALA will continue in its efforts to support the LGBTQ community on both campuses. He is hopeful this year’s fundraiser is an indication of GALA’s future success — both in terms of the student scholarship and in terms of overall alumni engagement.

“The response from the attendees was overwhelming with the support for this cause and for the desire to have things improve at the University,” Bergen said. “As progress is made with strengthening the relationship between the University and its LGBT alums, I see even greater financial resources being made available to aid those activities of supporting students and LGBT alumni engagement.”

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