Clark West and Elliott Mitchell established the scholarship in honor of Patti Sue Mathis, a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community who took her life in 1995 due to lack of acceptance.
West and Mitchell are former Alabama residents, who were so inspired by Patti Sue Mathis’s story and her father’s protest against an American senator’s anti-LGBTQ campaign, they decided to fund a scholarship. They began the scholarship with a specific goal of aiding UNA in becoming more progressive with the LGBTQ community.
Administered by the Point Foundation, the scholarship promotes change through funding, mentorship, leadership development and community service training. It will provide for the student’s financial need with the average amount of $10,000 per year.
Sara Baird, the Dean of the College Arts and Sciences, said the Patti Sue Mathis Scholarship is important to have at the university because it will fund the educational expenses of a LGBTQ student who may not be able to attend without it.
“Vivienne Cho is the first and only student at UNA who currently holds this scholarship,” Baird said. “We hope in the future to have additional student awarded this scholarship at UNA.”
The application for 2020-2021 scholarship will be available on November 1 at pointfoundation.org.
“This scholarship means that I will have a chance to help the LGBTQ community in an area where people within that community are desperately in need of additional support,” Cho said. “It also means that I will be able to pursue my dreams and explore career options without feeling pressured to choose a major solely for financial reasons.”
Cho is proud to be a part of the LGBTQ community.
She admits that a lot of times the world can seem hostile when being an openly LGBTQ identifying person, but having the immense support, love and acceptance of a large community can make a massive difference.
Cho will be required to work on a service project each year, where she will be able to give back to the community.
“Recipients are given many exciting opportunities,” Cho said. “One of these is having access to a mentorship program for guidance in developing community projects. This aspect of the scholarship provides a lot of room for personal improvement that many scholarships do not offer.”
The Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion, which opens this fall, will play an active role in aiding the recipient. Its central purpose is to aid minorities with challenges they may be facing, addressing issues like mental health or food insecurity.
“The center will help her develop that project, support that project and help her be successful,” Andrea Hunt, the executive director of the center said. “We are really pleased to have an exceptional student earn that scholarship. We will help in whatever she needs to make that project successful.”
Hunt said new students often may not have the contacts for resources or support campus. The Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion will help facilitate contacts for Cho so it is easier for her to solicit his feedback and implement ideas across campus.
“Although I am still waiting to be assigned a project mentor through the Point Foundation, I do have some ideas and long-term goals for my service projects,” Cho said. “I am currently considering using my first service project to create a clothing closet for transgender people who do not have access to their own gender-affirming clothes.”
She said she would also like to use future service projects to help LGBTQ youth in very rural areas that are less accepting and do not have accessible LGBTQ specific support systems.
Cho hopes the LGBTQ community will continue to grow and promote acceptance until the stigmas and discrimination that LGBTQ people face are dismantled.