ALOK named first Scholar in Residence at Penn’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center

The residency is made possible by an anonymous $2 million gift.

ALOK in a flower field.
ALOK is the creator of #DeGenderFashion, an initiative to degender fashion and beauty industries. They have been honored as one of HuffPost’s Culture Shifters and NBC’s Pride 50, and have appeared in HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness, The Trans List, and Netflix’s Getting Curious. (Image: Kohl Murdock)

The University of Pennsylvania announced a $2 million commitment to create the first residency, at any university in the United States, dedicated to championing LGBTQ+ communities and scholarship.

The LGBTQ+ Scholar in Residence provides new resources to bring prominent leaders to Penn’s campus. The residency will launch this April with inaugural scholar ALOK, an internationally acclaimed author, poet, comedian, and public speaker, whose work explores themes of trauma, belonging, and the human condition. ALOK is the author of “Femme in Public” (2017), “Beyond the Gender Binary” (2020), and “Your Wound/My Garden” (2021), and has toured more than 40 countries over the past decade.

“University Life is deeply appreciative for this impactful gift,” said Tamara Greenfield King, Interim Vice Provost for University Life and Senior Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs. “The Scholar in Residence program complements the incredible work of our Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center to make visible the experiences of Penn’s LGBTQ+ community. We are honored to lead the inaugural program, and we are committed to demonstrating, on a national level, how this program can bolster the LGBT Center’s efforts to create inclusive cocurricular experiences for our students.”

The residency offers flexibility to meet the needs and interests of Penn’s LGBTQ+ affinity groups while also highlighting the visitors’ expertise. ALOK and future invited scholars are selected by a student-driven advisory board that is supported by Penn faculty and staff. The residency may vary from a prominent activist visiting for a short period to a renowned queer theory scholar teaching a semester-long class and conducting research. During their time at Penn, ALOK will be guest teaching in graduate and undergraduate classrooms, leading workshops, performing, and sharing meals with the student community.

ALOK says, “It’s a profound honor to be the Inaugural LGBTQ+ Scholar in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania. In the face of escalating malalignment we see a widening chasm between the reality of LGBTQ+ lives and the misrepresentation of our communities in media and society. As LGBTQ+ scholars and artists we must continue to debunk anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation while also harnessing the power of LGBTQ+ storytelling to create a more inclusive and magnificent world. I’m looking forward to connecting with Penn students, faculty, and staff to celebrate the living poetry of our existence in these turbulent times.”

Penn has been named a top school/premier campus for LGBTQ+ students by Campus Pride. The LGBT Center, established in 1982, upholds the experiences of Penn’s LGBTQ+ students, staff, faculty, and alumni through education, support, and advocacy. The Center is the second oldest devoted to LGBTQ+ students in the United States. It administers the first fund on any U.S. campus supporting students making a gender transition.

“It is important to recognize that the residency will amplify student voices as well,” said Center director Erin Cross. “According to Penn data, LBGTQ+ students comprise one of the largest minoritized campus populations. Now with this wonderful gift, the Scholar in Residence will bring LGBTQ+ experiences into the spotlight. The scholars will not only be role models, but they will also highlight Penn’s commitment to diversity while promoting greater understanding on campus and in the wider community. ALOK has already been an inspiration to our students from afar, and their impact will be even greater working with young people here on campus.”