Ted Lewis, executive director, Side by Side; Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, associate vice president, Division for Inclusive Excellence; and Michael Thorne-Begland, board chair, Side by Side. (Photo by Jeffrey Ocampo)

VCU’s commitment to LGBTQ+ students recognized

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Virginia Commonwealth University was honored recently with the 2017 Catalyst Award by Side by Side, an organization dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong and flourish.

Side by Side specifically cited efforts such as VCU’s Lavender House, an inclusive living-learning community for first-year LGBTQ+ students, and the Lavender Empowerment Summit, a weekend forum aimed at empowering LGBTQ+ students to pursue individual and community leadership roles. Side by Side also noted efforts spanning student affairs, athletics, courses offered in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and Safe Zone workshops.

Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side, said VCU’s efforts were significant.

“There was a lot that impressed us,” said Lewis. “We’ve had a longtime connection to VCU. We have board members who worked at VCU. We’ve had youth who have been students at VCU. We’ve had interns from the Social Work program pretty consistently. And we’ve seen VCU in the last couple of years really step up in terms of the services [and] programming that they offer to LGBTQ students.” 

VCU is a catalyst for change in many ways, Lewis said. 

“Anything from academic offerings to student development to activities and student clubs to policy shifts and changes to support from the counseling center, the Title IX office, the Inclusive Excellence office,” Lewis said. “There was an institution-wide commitment.

“What I appreciate most about conversations I had with folks from VCU, but in particular, I remember Dr. [Rosalyn Hobson] Hargraves, when we talked about the award, one of the first things she said was, ‘And we know we’ve got more work to do.’ I think the acknowledgement, the celebration of how far VCU has come, with an understanding that there’s always more [to be done].”

In a video response to the audience at Side by Side’s annual “Springtime” fundraiser, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said it was an honor to receive the award.

“This award means so much to us because it signifies our university’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, supporting members of the LGBTQ+ community at VCU and throughout Richmond,” he said. “At VCU, we will continue to welcome and embrace all people. We will continue to build an environment where everyone is free to be themselves. We will continue to make certain that anyone who comes to VCU can flourish in every possible way, because they are safe, welcome and supported.”

Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, Ph.D., associate vice president for Inclusive Excellence, said “Springtime” celebrated the work and strength of those committed to the LGBTQ+ community.

“It was beautiful to celebrate the young people and families going through this transitional time in their lives and commend the work of Side by Side,” she said.

Founded in 1991 as ROSMY, Side by Side works with LGBTQ+ youth through a number of programs, including support groups, counseling services, leadership development, scholarships and a support line. Side by Side aims to provide a space where LGBTQ+ youth can be themselves.

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