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GALA-ND/SMC awards LGBTQ scholarships

| Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC) named Notre Dame junior Samuel Cho and Saint Mary’s junior Maranda Pennington the recipients of its 2016-2017 LGBTQ student scholarships.

Jack Bergen, the chair of GALA and a 1977 Notre Dame graduate, said the scholarship was instituted in spring of 2015, making this year its second consecutive year in what he hopes to be a continued tradition.

“When we were starting this up, we talked … and decided creating this scholarship would be a great way to demonstrate our support and to help eligible and qualified students with their financial burden at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s,” he said.

Bergen said like most alumni groups, GALA has two primary purposes — to continue to engage alumni of the University and the College and to stimulate interactions between alumni and current students.

“As a result of the University more actively recognizing the LGBTQ student population as part of the community, we felt that it was time to do more for the LGBTQ students on campus,” he said.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must identify within the LGBTQ community and have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or above, according to GALA’s website. Additionally, applicants must be willing to be identified as scholarship recipients and complete a service project.

Applicants submit a written application and from there are invited to interview for the scholarship. A four-person selection committee consisting of a combination of GALA officers and board members then selects the two recipients, Bergen said.

Bergen said the number of students that applied was between four and six, creating an “extremely strong” pool of applicants for this year’s award.

“But as we went through the process, these two individuals rose to the top,” he said. “… They each had a different and unique perspective as to what their experience has been and what they want to do to give back to the community.”

Cho said he thinks GALA’s scholarship is a “positive force” on both the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses.

“Only recently PrismND was recognized as a club by the University of Notre Dame,” he said. “The visibility of LGBTQ students on campus is crucial for the inclusion of those who may have felt excluded before.”

During his time at the University, Cho has been an active member of both PrismND — a student organization founded to provide support for the University’s LGBTQ community — and the Asian American Association, according to GALA’s website. He will serve as co-chair of Diversity Council for the upcoming academic year.

“I have and will continue to work hard to champion the inclusion of LGBTQ members on campus and create a setting that will truly be respectful and accepting of everyone who identifies within the LGBTQ community,” Cho said. “Hopefully soon we will see a Notre Dame that allows all of its students to live true to themselves.”

Cho said his fulfillment of the scholarship’s community service requirement is still in the planning stages.

“I hope to create a project that could be sustained for years to come even after I graduate and provide an outlet to recognize and celebrate those of the LGBTQ community,” he said.

Pennington has been vice president of the College’s Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) and has held a number of leadership positions for the Saint Mary’s College Dance Marathon (SMCDM), according to GALA’s website.

For her community service project, Pennington said she would like to create a blog or video to document the stories of LGBTQ students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s to help both students and members of the greater community to “see the humanity and commonality in one another,” according to GALA’s website.

Over the next five years, Bergen said GALA hopes to raise $500,000 to fund an endowed scholarship. At the end of June, GALA will host a fundraising event in the Los Angeles area, which Bergen said students are welcome to attend.

Bergen said he thinks the campus climate surrounding LGBTQ issues has made significant progress in recent years — particularly with the founding of PrismND, the University’s first officially recognized LGBTQ student organization, in 2013.

“I think the general consensus is things have gotten a lot better, but a lot of work still has to be done,” he said.

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity creates a “unique environment” for LGBTQ students and alumni, Bergen said.

“We’re not looking to change Notre Dame’s foundation in the faith that it relies upon,” he said. “But we’d like to see them embrace LGBTQ individuals more, especially as it relates to being whole individuals and supporting them just as any other member of the Notre Dame community.”

GALA was founded in 1994, Bergen said, when Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s alumni recognized a need to provide a network to LGBTQ members of the community. The organization now has about 1,000 people on its email list, he said.

Moving forward, Bergen said he would like to see the University recognize GALA as an official alumni association. Last fall, GALA presented to the Notre Dame Alumni Association, and its status is currently under review.

“It’s great that the University recognizes LGBTQ students and supports them within the undergraduate community. But once they graduate, they’ve lost that support from the University,” he said. “We’re looking to encourage them to continue to support the LGBTQ community.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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