By Sarah Heady October 10, 2016

CIIS’s LGBTQ Leadership Initiative in Higher Education, funded by the Arcus Foundation as well as the Small Change Foundation, recruits LGBTQ students of color and trans students from rural, isolated, or conservative campuses who are passionate about making their schools inclusive, safe, and welcoming for LGBTQ communities. These students participate in a year-long fellowship program that provides leadership training, mentorship, professional development, and financial support for implementing anti-discrimination projects on their campuses.

Each Arcus fellow receives ongoing guidance from a faculty or staff mentor at their home institution, as well as a CIIS graduate

student in the Human Sexuality (HSX) PhD program. This year, PhD students Nic Caballero, Ericka Dennis, and Leo Rutherford served as mentors, joining HSX program chair Michelle Marzullo in teaching fellows how to effectively gather data and evaluate their projects.

From November 11-13, the fellows and their home campus mentors convened at CIIS for an intensive training that culminated with the Expanding the Circle conference, where they accessed a network of academics and higher education professionals dedicated to the advancement of LGBTQ issues. This year’s fellowship cohort includes six extraordinary student leaders:

MORGAN SINNARD CIISMorgan Sinnard, a PhD candidate at the University of WisconsinMadison, will establish a Greek Inclusion Program that aims to broaden understanding and inclusion of trans students in fraternities and sororities, challenging the heteronormativity traditionally associated with Greek life among faculty, staff, and students.

TIVANA STEPNEY CIISTivana Stepney, an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park, will undertake a project aimed at challenging the seeming erasure of queer students of color among her campus’ LGBTQ organizations, especially the LGBTQ Resource Center. Tivana will develop programs that bring awareness around diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality to the university.

NOLAN TESIS CIISNortheastern University student Nolan Tesis will address issues around the inclusion of Black LGBTQ students and their concerns in campus venues such as Northeastern’s LGBTQA Resource Center and African American Institute. Nolan plans to develop a greater sense of community for LGBTQ students of color through new resources, safe spaces, and other forms of support.


Juan Villela, a student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, plans to create resources for trans students and community members, including a Trans Buddy program that provides transportation, emotional support, and patient advocacy. Juan also wants to develop a resource guide to trans-friendly medical services in South Texas.

EVA DICKERSON CIISSpelman College, the oldest historically black college for women in the country, is represented this year by two fellows: Eva Dickerson and Marissa Kilpatrick. Eva’s project, “Queering Spelman,” proposes reforms in admissions and recruitment procedures, residential life policies, health services, and spiritual life, as well as capacity-building for the college’s lone LGBTQ student group.

MARISSA KILPATRICK CIISMarissa Kilpatrick’s project, on the other hand, intends to strengthen ties between the LGBTQ communities of institutions in the Atlanta University Center, of which Spelman is a member along with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. Planned activities include courses and discussion groups, a weekly newsletter, and fun community-building experiences for LGBTQ students at all three institutions.

The first Arcus cohort also included a fellow from Spelman—Lexus Phillips—who will return this year to present the results of her project at Expanding the Circle, along with fellow Romeo Jackson and Arcus facilitator Sam Offer.

If you would like to support the Arcus Fellowship and the LGBTQ Leadership Initiative in Higher Education, please contact Charles Wilmoth, Associate Director of Development, at 415.575.6269 or

Sarah Heady is CIIS’s Senior Grants Writer.

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