GLBTA Awards Reveal Campus Climate
Monday night, AU’s GLBTA Resource Center hosted its Fifteenth Annual Awards Ceremony. As the Center’s closing event for the academic year, the night honored AU community members with acknowledgements ranging from leadership and academic awards to recognition for excellence on campus.
“We try to honor faculty, staff, and students who are doing great LGBT-queer work on campus,” said the Center’s director, Sara Bendoraitis.
Vice President of Campus Life Dr. Gail Hanson delivered opening remarks at the ceremony, noting recognition the university had received over the past year for its commitment to inclusivity. Prominent online college resources Campus Pride and College Equality Index named AU a top choice for LGBT students and gave the university a five-star ranking for its inclusive campus environment.
The night offered a slate of six awards presented to a total of twelve people for their work in creating an atmosphere that has earned AU its marks of distinction. Kathleen McKenna and Matthew Stewart, both graduating seniors, received Leadership Awards in recognition for designing and leading an Alternative Break trip to San Francisco that engaged students with issues of queer homeless youth in the city.
“I’ve been really privileged to lead two Alt Breaks,” McKenna said of the trips which take students to different parts of the world to participate in and learn about social justice movements. “I was able to combine my passion for LGBT activism with Alt Breaks, which is a fantastic program. I was really surprised I got nominated.”
Stewart, who worked in the GLBTA Resource Center from his freshman to junior year, credited the department for attracting him to AU and allowing him the experiences that warranted the award.
“It was one of the offices that really reeled me in when I was deciding on what school to go to,” he said. “Knowing that I would have a safe space on campus that affirmed my identity was probably the number one aspect of coming to AU.”
After also serving as the coordinator for the Center’s Spectrum Program, which introduces LGBT students to AU through a peer mentoring program, Stewart believed service was the best way of showing his gratitude for the supportive community he found at AU.
“I felt like I gained so much from the Center that it was only right to pay it forward,” he said.
Student Government received a Campus Excellence Award for its steadfast commitment to LGBT-related issues over the past year. The SG’s many initiatives demonstrated model inclusivity at an organizational level.
“They worked on open gender housing for next year and were very specific about getting people in Student Government Safe Space-trained and going through Trans 101,” said the Center’s program coordinator Matt Bruno, referring to his department’s inclusivity and awareness-building workshops. “They were specifically reaching out to us multiple times throughout the year and, on a campus-wide level, were doing some really great work.”
The ceremony honored two professors, the School of Communication’s Laura Denardis and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Carl Menninger, for their mentoring and support of LGBT students on campus. Before the program closed, Bruno and Bendoraitis also handed out rainbow tassels for graduating seniors – like Stewart and McKenna – to wear at their commencement ceremony.
While the annual evening of awards has always recognized exemplary students, staff, and faculty across campus, Bendoraitis said she also appreciates the event as a moment for her to reflect on and celebrate all that AU has come to offer LGBT students.
“For me, it’s always my warm and fuzzy at the end of the year,” she said. “Everyone talks about how cool it is to be on a campus that’s so queer friendly. Sometimes they highlight us and the Resource Center, which is always great, but it’s not just about us – it’s about the culture here at AU.”