Alumnus makes $500,000 gift to gay studies efforts

by Tracy Ellingson

Last week, University alumnus Steven Schochet gave a $500,000 gift to the alma mater where, nearly 40 years ago, coming out of the closet was a trying experience for him.
Schochet donated the money to support and develop gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender studies. This was the largest gift ever designated specifically to that area. Schochet said he hopes his donation, which will help fund the development of educational materials, curriculum, programming and research in GLBT studies, will affect people both inside and outside the University community.
Schochet acknowledged his identity as a gay man during his junior year at the University. After discovering Schochet’s homosexuality, administrators sent him to a psychiatrist, asked him to sign a release saying they could access the doctor’s records and had him report to the University’s vice president for progress updates.
“I was severely criticized because I stayed (in school) through three quarters of the year when I could have graduated after two,” Schochet added. “In other words, they wanted me out of there.”
But in more recent years, the University has attempted to improve the environment for gay community members. The changes, in fact, are what prompted Schochet to make his donation.
“Just the fact that there is a GLBT office and there is a GLBT concern is spectacular,” Schochet said. He added that the University has come a long way in making the climate more accepting of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Schochet, who now lives in Cleveland, is a retired computer systems consultant who previously worked for the Ford Motor Co. and the Bank of America.
GLBT Programs Office Director, Beth Zemsky said she has no doubts that this endowment, part of which is a bequest, can benefit all University students because it increases the discourse of homosexual issues. The provisions of the endowment include: providing money for personal development research;supporting development of forums, colloquiums and programming; and developing and training GLBT speakers and educators.
“We’re giving the students more information to grapple with,” Zemsky said, “and I think that’s helpful for all students. Whether they agree or disagree with the information, it’s still giving them more to grapple with.”
Zemsky added that the endowment will specifically benefit GLBT students because it gives them access to information about other gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, and gives a history and facts about their community. Zemsky also said the research on GLBT issues, which the endowment will help fund, will undoubtedly prove helpful to those outside the University community.
“For the community off campus I think this is incredibly important because there has not been as much good solid research about people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and there needs to be. It’s hard to get funding for research about our community,” Zemsky said.
Schochet said that after he made his donation, students at other universities contacted him to thank him for his generosity, which they told him might lead to similar donations on their campuses.
Not only is this the largest endowment made to GLBT studies, it is the only donation of its kind, anywhere in the nation. The GLBT office will set up an advisory committee by the end of this academic year, which will determine the allocation of the endowment.
“We’ve got a little bit of time to really do this right because it’s really the first one of it’s kind,” Zemsky said about the endowment’s allocation. “It’s not like we can look to another University and say, Here’s how they did that.'”
The curricula, training, and speakers will cover GLBT issues in a wide-range of disciplines. Some of the departments that now offer GLBT-specific courses are English, women’s studies, cultural studies and family social sciences.
English professor Toni McNaron said Schochet’s endowment will help create a sense of cohesion among faculty members who want to teach GLBT courses. Currently, faculty members must initiate such courses on an individual basis, she added.
But single, isolated courses, such as these, can frustrate professors who see little direction or motivation to set up courses that lack a network of support, McNaron said.
“The formation of this funding will give us a kind of morale boost that will say, there is a future,’ so we might begin to talk,” she said.