By Anthony Costello, March 2016 Issue.
As Arizona State University settles into the spring semester, a proud tradition of honoring LGBTQ students draws nearer with Devils’ Pride Chapter’s fourth annual Scholarship Benefit Dinner taking place March 12 on the Tempe campus.
Each year, this event honors an LGBTQ ASU student with a community leadership scholarship – funded by donations from ASU alumni and members of the LGBTQ community – in recognition of their service, involvement and dedication.
This year, a new honor – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences LGBT Leadership Graduate Student – will be presented for the first time. According to LGBT Devils’ Pride Chapter President Gabriel Escontrías Jr., the keynote speaker at this year’s event is Christine K. Wilkinson, ASU Alumni Association president and managing director of the Trustees of ASU.
The benefit was established four years ago, Escontrías said, adding that its mission is to honor and foster growth in future leaders of the LGBTQ community through the Community Leadership Scholarship.
“It started as an idea of how we could raise more money and how we could use it to support current ASU students in achieving their goals,” Escontrías said. “We had alumni donate to the foundation and we were looking at that to fund the award scholarship for multiple years to come, and a benefit dinner made the most sense.”
The dinner has grown into an event that includes local performers, art, food, music, sponsors and a silent auction.
“Our main goal is to raise money through the art and silent auction, which many of the works are supplied by local LGBT artists and ASU students, during the event,” Escontrías said. “Any money raised at the scholarship dinner goes toward the scholarship fund.”
Since its inception, Escontrías said the event has been adjusted and more features have been added, all with the intention of delivering the most enjoyable experience to guests.
“Attendees can expect to see an event that celebrates the community and to experience ASU alumni and student talent,” Escontrías said. “We’ve been fortunate to have allies attend, including deans from the campus and local businesses.”
The end result, according to Escontrías, is a diverse mix of attendees.
“You get a mixture of attendees. Our usuals are social and active groups, like Phoenix Frontrunners and Equality Arizona,” Escontrías said. “One of our notable … contributors is the Greater Phoenix Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, who help us out a lot.”
According to Escontrías, scholarship recipients are chosen based on their values of commitment.
“We like variety in recipients, who they serve and how they go about achieving their goals,” he said. “[The] main application questions revolve around ‘What leadership qualities do you provide your community? How does that lend value to the community?’ We felt community should come first and we make it very clear to applicants that it’s a community scholarship.”
For ASU student and first recipient of the community leadership scholarship Will Smith, it wasn’t the scholarship money that made the most difference. Instead, he credits the connections he made for awakening his self-confidence in being an LGBTQ leader.
“With scholarships a lot of people think it’s just all about getting the reward, but it’s so much more than getting monetary value,” Smith said. “To sit next to someone like Kyrsten Sinema and talk about the award, my goals and how to achieve them was an empowering experience.”
Going forward, Escontrías and Smith hope future benefit dinners will allow the scholarship reward amount to grow.
“Ten years down the road, I hope to see the monetary value grow and more people donating to the fund,” Smith said. “Not so much just receiving financial support but also emotional support and a sense of community in which they can feel empowered and be who they are.”
LGBT Devils’ Pride Scholarship Benefit Dinner
5:30-8:30 p.m. March 12
ASU Tempe campus, Old Main, Carson Ballroom
400 E. Tyler Mall