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A Place for All

Gift Supports Student Programming in LGBTQIA+ Lounge

The LGBTQ+ Lounge Series, which is sponsored by the Dr. Jesse L. White Jr. Fund, has monthly events scheduled this fall, including Story Slam: Coming Out on Oct. 12. Photo by Kevin Bain/UM MarCom

Jesse L. White Jr.

A generous gift from a University of Mississippi alumnus will support Spring Pride Camp, an annual event designed to provide fun, networking opportunities and information on campus resources for students who are members and allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community.

The gift will also provide support for student programming in the LGBTQIA+ Lounge, which was dedicated in late 2019. Located on the fourth floor of Lamar Hall, the lounge has been a space for social gatherings by OUTGRAD and served as headquarters for the planning of the Glitterary Festival, an LGBTQ+ literary conference that is free and open to the university community.

Through the Dr. Jesse L. White Jr. Fund for the Center for Inclusion & Cross-Cultural Engagement, Jesse White of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, hopes the transformation on the UM campus will continue by creating more opportunities and space for LGBTQ+ community members.

“Being very interested in issues of social justice, I am very pleased to see the effort being made at Ole Miss to be more inclusive,” said White, a Mississippi native and 1966 UM graduate.

“Such a place like the lounge or an event like Pride Camp would have been unthinkable when I was here as a student. I’m thrilled for the work being done and I’m glad I am able to support it.”

The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement — which includes the Center for Community Engagement and the Center for Inclusion & Cross-Cultural Engagement — worked in partnership with the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and the Department of Writing and Rhetoric to create the space.

Shawnboda Mead, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement said, “The lounge is a space that fosters community and support for LGBTQ+ students and allies and will serve as a physical location for upcoming events such as Pride Camp, movie nights and more.

“We are especially grateful for Dr. White’s generosity,” she continued. “His support will allow us to host even more programs and services that help LGBTQ+ students feel welcomed at UM, become connected to available resources and develop a greater sense of community.”

The LGBTQ+ Lounge Series, which is sponsored by the White Fund, has monthly events scheduled this fall, including Story Slam: Coming Out on Oct. 12.

“Thanks to our Fall Pride Camp and the new event series, we’ve had students tell us that they now feel like they belong here at the University of Mississippi,” said Isaiah Wilson, coordinator for LGBTQ+ programming. “We’ve had feedback from them saying they feel like the campus is a safe space for them and that they have a family here.”

Jaime Harker, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women & Gender Studies, said the university has made great strides in creating support systems and programs for queer students, including Pride Camp, Lavender Graduation, the Oxford Pride Parade, numerous conferences and the annual Queer Lecture Series.

“Enlisting donor support is critical to sustain and expand this work,” Harker said. “The LGBTQ+ community has always been part of the larger UM community and it is a vibrant, courageous, resilient group that we should celebrate and support.”

Levi Bevis, president of the UM LGBTQIA+ Alumni Chapter, said White’s gift will enable current and future UM students to find a welcoming community.

“We are exceptionally grateful and proud to see Dr. White’s donation creating a more inclusive university environment that empowers and supports all students and alumni, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” Bevis said.

“We hope this donation encourages others to join our university community to provide additional resources and opportunities for LGBTQ+ students and allies.”

White said, “I hope this support continues to expand the welcome mat for LGBTQ+ kids and allies on campus. The university has come a long way since I was a student here.”

To make a gift to the Dr. Jesse L. White Jr. Fund for the Center for Inclusion & Cross-Cultural Engagement send a check, with the fund’s name noted in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online at https://give.olemiss.edu.

For more information contact Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development, at [email protected] or 662-915-6678.

By Mary Stanton Knight