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Make a Difference Giving to Michigan State University
Make a Difference Giving To Michigan State University

LGBT Students Find Support at MSU

The MSU Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Resource Center was named the beneficiary of a $1 million bequest that, when realized, will be used to improve and develop new programs and resources.

LGBT Students Find Support at MSU

Getting along with a roommate, finding a social niche and deciding on a major, are archetypcal challenges on a university campus. But students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) often face additional hurdles to finding acceptance and emotional well being.

Support for the LGBT community is strong at MSU thanks to a university leadership with foresight bolstered by recent backing from alumni donors.

Last month, the MSU Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Resource Center was named the beneficiary of a $1 million bequest that, when realized, will be used to improve and develop new programs and resources. The gift comes on the heels of other significant gifts to fund scholarships for LGBT students and to support an ongoing university commitment to the LGBT community.

 “We are pleased to partner with alumni and donors who understand the value of our work in making certain MSU is one of the best living and learning environments in the world,” says Denise Maybank, vice president for student affairs. “These funds will have a significant impact on our ability to empower studentsby fostering intellectual, personal and professional growth throughout their engagement at MSU, while also advancing the dialogue regarding the intersections of identity.”

The $1 million charitable bequest from the estate of an MSU alumnus and his partner, who wish to remain anonymous, will create the Support, Outreach, Action and Respect (SOAR) endowment. Objectives of the SOAR fund include empowering and encouraging LGBT students to succeed; providing programs to educate and support students; and promoting respect and building self-esteem among LGBT community members.

In 2012, donors Stephen Wilensky and Mark Ritzenhein created the Wilensky-Ritzenhein LBGT Community Enrichment Endowment, also to support the efforts of the LBGT Resource Center. Mark passed in 2013, after more than 30 years of life together with Stephen. The couple also donated about 2,000 gay-themed books and ephemera to MSU, along with endowments for both the MSU Libraries and the MSU Museum.

Stephen P. Wilensky, attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and obtained his MD degree there in 1963. He joined the Michigan State University Radiology Department in 1992, where he spent 19 years prior to his retirement.

Mark S. Ritzenhein earned his MA in Musicology from MSU in 1990, and had his own piano tuning and restoration business in Lansing for 28 years.

Stephen and Mark wrote that their gifts were to the community, to MSU and to the wider cause of knowledge, understanding and tolerance for all humanity.

R Cole Bouck (’84, Social Science) recently made an $80,000 charitable bequest to support student-driven activities such as service-learning experiences, internships, leadership conference participation, study away programs and community engagement, which he hopes will continue to positively affect the LGBT community. He notes that while equality for LGBT people has already surpassed his wildest dreams, much work remains to be done.

“I hope my endowment will help ensure there are relevant and challenging opportunities for students to work first hand at advancing LGBT equality and public policy,” he says.

He believes strongly that his gift will have a positive impact by enhancing the work of the division of Student Affairs and Services at MSU.

 

A present that makes a Spartan’s future

MSU is also home to several scholarships supporting LGBT students. They are among a handful of such scholarships offered by U.S. universities.

Aaron Kuhn, a junior from Rochester Hills studying social relations and policy in James Madison College, aspires to a career in Washington, D.C. crafting public policy. He recently learned he was the 2014 recipient of the Stephen P. Pougnet and Christopher J. Green Endowed Scholarship.

Stephen Pougnet (’85, Business) together with his husband Christopher Green, established the scholarship in 2005 to support MSU students who demonstrate academic excellence and contributions to the LGBT community. Stephen is a former vice president of the Colorado School of Mines and has been the mayor of Palm Springs, California, since 2007.

“It means a lot to me that members of the Spartan community thought I was worthy of selection,” says Aaron, adding that he appreciates the support of the LBGT Resource Center at MSU. “Knowing that it’s there and that a community is present and ready to catch you when you stumble is a good feeling.”

MSU’s Pride scholarship was founded in 2000 by Bill Beachler (’68, ’71, Business) and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Faculty, Staff and Graduate Student Association of MSU. Awards go to incoming freshmen with academic achievement who are already active in supporting the LGBT community. In 2000, the scholarship awarded was $500; it has since grown to awards of $3,000 and $5,000.

Recently, a third endowment joined the list of scholarships supporting LGBT students at MSU when Jim Westbury (’92, Business) created the Westbury-Buck Endowed LGBT Scholarship Fund. Jim, a finance major who lives on the West Coast, wished to honor his grandparents Vincent A. and Dierdre A. Buck and his parents James G. and Brenda E. Westbury.

The endowment is a celebration of the LGBT community as well. Framed in the same year that marriage equality in California was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Jim hopes that the MSU scholarship recipients will honor the LGBT community by continuing the campaign for equal human rights, and by becoming activists and philanthropists themselves.

 

Healing and progress

Deanna Hurlbert, director of the LBGT Resource Center, sees the emotional and spiritual impact of donor support on students first hand.

“Through these gifts, there is a sense of healing for alumni and empowerment for LGBT students,” she says. “It says that my life is important, that my identity impacts my experience as a Spartan and that people recognize that we still have a ways to go.”

The center leads and collaborates on university-wide initiatives that prepare all students to succeed through educational programs on sexuality and gender identity and direct support for LGBT students.

 “MSU is one of the best kept secrets in the country in terms of the range of opportunities and support for the LGBT community,” Hurlbert says. “There is a wide and deep network of LGBT-identified students, faculty and staff; multiple ways to connect with resources, as well as a supportive university environment.”

MSU is the only campus in the nation to create LGBT caucuses in its neighborhoods that are supported by the Residence Hall Association.

Additionally, the LGBT students have seats on the Associated Students of MSU and therefore a voice in student governance.

There also are some 15 LGBT student organizations on campus. It is believed that MSU had the first officially recognized LGBT student organization in the nation when the Gay Liberation Movement student group formed in September of 1969, just months after the famed Stonewall Rebellion in New York City.

Collectively, these efforts help MSU to be a safe place for LGBT students to express pride, embrace their identities and become an important part of the MSU community.

 

For more information on supporting the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Resource Center, programs and scholarships , contact Director of Development Ann Marie Lindley at alindley@msu.edu or by calling (517) 432-7543. 

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