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New Mills scholarship for homosexual and transgendered students

By fall of 2008, Mills College will provide a scholarship specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual/gendered and queer (LGBTQ) students on campus, according to Ramon Torrecilha, executive vice president.

Last semester, an alumna, whom Torrecilha said could not be named, donated $345,000 for the College to create an annual scholarship in support of the LGBTQ communit. According to Torrecilha, the Mills administration is working with Dean of Students Jocreate guidelines for this award, currently known as the LGBTQ scholarship.

Though the campus has yet to form the basic tenants, a group of Mills women concerned with sexual/gender orientation rights proposed that the scholarship be awarded to Mills students who have been financially cut off by their families. This group includes seniors Phoenix Ahmadyar and Lauren Steinberg and Mills alumna Laurel Fedor.

While Ahmadyar said that Mills provides most students with financial aid, they said problems can still develop if the student has no financial backing from parents.

FAFSA, the standard form used to determine college financial aid, only requests parents’ income. Students have no way of listing that their parents have disowned them and few students qualify for independence if they are under 24 years-old.

Ahmadyar reported that her parents stopped supporting her when she came out as gay and as a result, she has been having a difficult time paying college tuition and expenses. The M-Center estimated that the average Mills undergraduate’s tuition and college expenses add up to $49,460 per school year.

Ahmadyar said that having the scholarship available as soon as possible would help Mills students facing financial problems. “It happens to many women on this campus and I don’t want them to struggle,” she said.

The scholarship proposal, written by Fedor, requested that a yearly award of $32,000 be given to a small group of qualified Mills students. Suggested qualifications include academic merit, activism with the Mills and LGBTQ community, recommendation letters and interviews with scholarship candidates.

The proposal also suggested that the Mills Financial Aid Office call the candidate’s parents to confirm that the student has been financially cut.

The group presented this proposal at the Community Forum on Oct. 16. According to Ahmadyar, those who attended the meeting were pleasantly surprised to discover that the College administration was already working towards an LGBTQ scholarship.

“We’re really happy that the administration is taking [the LGBTQ community] into consideration. We want to work with the administration and know what we can do next,” Ahmadyar said.

Torrecilha said that Mills has been working on establishing the scholarship since last year. He said that the College could not launch the scholarship until the administration was certain that the funds would be available.

Ahmadyar said that she is happy that the scholarship will be implemented, but she thinks that it should be available next semester so that others would not face the same financial difficulties she did.

A spring 2008 deadline is not feasible because the scholarship must earn interest before the College can award it to students, according to Torrecilha. “It is not uncommon for endowed scholarship funds such as this one to accrue interest before scholarship awards can be made,” he said.

The earliest date that Mills College can provide the LGBTQ scholarship is fall 2008.

Torrecilha said that the College is delighted to have the scholarship. “We want the scholarship to be here forever,” he said.

Steinberg, who wrote a brief argument for the scholarship in the pages preceding the proposal, said that the scholarship will reflect Mills’ ideals. “Mills strives to create an inclusive and diverse campus community . We feel that the creation of a scholarship for LGBTQ students. would play a vital role in realizing this goal,” she wrote.

Other colleges across the nation have scholarships specific to the LGBTQ. According to their Web site, the University of Illinois offers a scholarship to graduate students who have worked with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) concerns and was an active part of the community. They did not list the amount of money a student can receive.

Michigan State University also provides at least one $2,500 scholarship each year to someone in the GLBT community, according to the MSU’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty, Staff and Graduate Student Association Web site.