Days before graduation, thirteen students gathered in Scott Hall, surrounded by friends, family, and faculty to be honored in their own congratulatory ceremony. They donned rainbow stoles and celebrated their achievements as members of the LGBTQ students at Northwestern.
Lavender Graduations are held at universities across the nation to honor and acknowledge the achievements of LGBTQ students. Lavender is an important color in LGBTQ history, although the origins of the association is debated. The Human Rights Campaign says that the hue combines the two colors that Nazis used to signify gay men and lesbian women in concentration camps, pink and black, respectively. The LGBTQ rights movement repurposed these hateful symbols as a symbol of pride.
The first Lavender Graduation was held in 1995 at the University of Michigan after a lesbian mother was denied access to her children’s graduation because of her sexuality. Now, 22 years later, about 30 students registered to participate in Northwestern’s ceremony and dozens others were held across the country.
“It’s important to recognize achievement by people in the LGBT community because there are so many more barriers that need to be knocked down, hurtled over, or dug underneath in order to achieve this end goal of graduating,” Lavender Graduate Kody Keckler said.
Aside from celebrating LGBTQ achievement on campus, “it gives administration the opportunity to meet queer students in a more personal way and helps create more investment in LGBTQ student life on campus,” JT Turner, assistant director of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) said.
MSA and the Northwestern University Gay and Lesbian Alumni (NUGALA) collaborate to host the event annually, and at each ceremony they award one student with the NUGALA scholarship, funding which supports a student who has shown active involvement in Northwestern’s LGBTQ community. This year’s recipient, rising senior Yamari Lewis, earned the award due to her work on the executive board of LGBTQ student group Rainbow Alliance, as the two-time producer of the drag show “Norris is Burning,” and her research at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.
"This award grants me the opportunity to continue working on my degree and the activities that mean the most for me and my community," Lewis said. "I am beyond honored to win this year's award. I am even more inspired to persist."
MSA Assistant Director JT Turner said, "I couldn’t think of a better person for that award... She’s personable and a really kind and caring person with a really great heart. She’s really invested in queer students on campus.”
Student groups and resources like Rainbow Alliance, Turner said, are a vital part of community building for LGBTQ students at Northwestern.
“I’m a strong believer that we come to our purpose and ourselves sometimes through community,” they said. “Find students that share your identities and experiences and talk with them. Use this as a place to journey with yourself in a space that we hope is safe and really inclusive.”
Here are some of the resources available for LGBTQ students; check out the MSA website for more information:
The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) provides a safe space and meeting place for queer, trans, and ally communities and organizations.
Counselling and domestic violence support are available through CARE and CAPS
Northwestern partners with the Center on Halsted to provide HIV/STI testing for students.