New scholarship supports LGBT community

The Alumni Association has developed the first endowed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) scholarship at USF.

The idea started a year and a half ago as a $1,000 fund and is now a $29,000 endowment with a $20,000 donation from Dr. Karen Berkman, chair of USF’s President’s Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (CISOGI).

“We felt that this was something that we wanted to be at USF forever, and the only way to make that happen was to get an endowed scholarship fund,” Berkman said.

 For a scholarship to become endowed, $25,000 must be raised. Once that amount is reached, the scholarship is essentially permanent and operates off of interest, she said.

USF is now among the few public universities in Florida to offer such a scholarship, said Merrell Dickey, Alumni Association director of chapter and corporate relations.

“It supports the president’s initiatives to make USF a welcoming, inclusive community that is globally known and recognized for that — which then makes us as a university prestigious around the world,” Dickey said. “Secondly, I think it validates the importance of the LGBT community in the area.”

The scholarship is inclusive and available to all USF students and incoming freshmen, regardless of sexual orientation. Applicants must complete the USF General Foundation Scholarship Application, have a 3.0 grade point average and complete a personal statement indicating their contributions to the LGBT community.

“The scholarship is for students who have done things to contribute to the welcoming climate of the LGBT community, either here on campus or within the community,” said LaToya Dowdell, director of campus and student relations for the Alumni Association.

Possible contributions include participating in activities that welcome campus diversity, performing research or writing a paper pertaining to the LGBT community, Dowdell said.

The scholarship is worth $1,000, with installments of $500 in the fall and $500 in the spring. A committee of USF alumni will choose the recipient.

The scholarship will be awarded at the 5th Annual Spring USF LGBT Gala event March 24. The reception, as well as the scholarship, is a collaboration of CISOGI, the USF People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality (P.R.I.D.E) Alliance, Safe Zone and the Alumni Association.

The gala event will feature guest speaker Betty Castor, former USF president.  It will also include a performance by Crescendo — the Tampa Bay Women’s Chorus.

The scholarship is currently a one-time scholarship, but Dickey said he hopes that as awareness of the LGBT scholarship increases so will the donations.

Once privately endowed scholarships reach $100,000, the University can apply to receive 50 percent matching funds from the state, Dickey said.

He said the scholarship is a chance for people to invest in someone else.

“That’s what we’re doing  through scholarships — we’re helping someone who maybe was kicked out of their house for being honest of who they are,” he said. “They were ostracized, so we validate them. What a wonderful thing to be able to do ——— to say ‘you’re worth it.'”

For more information on the Alumni Association, visit its Web site at