Pride Foundation’s Scholarship Program supports LGBTQ+ students who have faced incredible barriers, regardless of school, major, or GPA. Since awarding our first scholarship in 1993, we have awarded over $6 million to more than 1,800 students in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Every year, a group of amazing volunteers lends their time and brilliance to review and evaluate student applications, and they help make a thoughtful, comprehensive review process possible.
Ask any of our longtime scholarship volunteers and they’ll tell you: Pride Foundation’s scholarship volunteer experience looks pretty different than it did a decade ago.
These changes haven’t just been accidental or a natural evolution—they’ve been intentional shifts that help us continue our efforts to center racial equity in our work, improve the experience of scholars, and align our scholarship program with our organizational priorities to move resources to those most impacted by injustice.
In this conversation with Jeremiah J. Allen (Director of Programs) and Eden Shore (Programs Manager), we’ll dig into what has changed and why. (Note: this conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
How has the scholarship review process and the role of volunteers changed over time? What has guided these changes?
Eden: In the beginning of the program in the early 90s, there weren’t review ‘committees’—the reviewers were our board members. After about 3 years, though, when more scholarship funds had been created and more students were applying, we created review committees made up of fundholders, board members, donors, and community volunteers. Every year since then, we’ve had more scholarship funds, more applicants, and more committees.
Over time, our volunteer orientation went from folks sitting around a table in Seattle, to separate in-person orientations led by staff people across the region. Now we’re back to a more centralized model so that everyone has the same information and is on the same page about who we are, what our values are, and our approach to the review. The region-wide online orientation now includes 1 hour-long webinar, readings to dive into Pride Foundation’s work to center racial justice (like this one, and this one) and learn about current impacts on LGBTQ+ student experience (like this one), and follow-up questions where we invite folks to engage with their own perspectives and lived experiences.
Jeremiah: All of the changes in the past few years have been to ensure that the folks who make up the review teams have an equity lens, and are able to help make the best decisions for LGBTQ+ scholars who haven’t had traditional paths or haven’t historically had the same access to higher education. That’s very different from traditional scholarship programs—it’s not based on academic achievement, it’s based on need, determination, and the obstacles that folks have overcome to be where they are now.
Evaluating applications from this space, though, is more complicated and nuanced than assigning numerical scores to an application based on GPA and extracurriculars. It requires volunteers to ask themselves meaningful questions, and to work to understand the perspective that they are coming to this review with. We just need to make sure we’re actually giving people the tools they need to do that.
Eden: Totally. And I think a big part of that is making sure all of the tools we’re giving accurately reflect our values and our program priorities, which have been in place for 5 or 6 years now.
Over the years, we’ve done a lot to shape our processes around these priorities. This year, we recognized that we’d been working so hard in recent years to work our values and our priorities into existing tools—when the tools themselves should’ve been built around our priorities in the first place. We knew we had to shift pretty massively to let our values actually be the core—and the driver of every piece of our program.
What we are doing now as part of this process is inviting volunteers into the conversation that we are having as staff and board that make it clear that centering racial equity isn’t just an external journey, but that it means we are actually changing how we are operating and approaching our work. Because if our volunteers are going to be a part of this process, then they need to think about how they are going to do that as well.
Jeremiah: I also think it’s important to name that, in the past, Pride Foundation has struggled with prioritizing student experience while trying to create meaningful experiences for volunteers and donors. We have to acknowledge the history of this program, and who was making these decisions at the beginning, and how that has changed over time. The nature of the world has shifted so much, and we really want to make sure that every aspect of our scholarship program is focused on supporting LGBTQ+ students, above all. We as staff and volunteers need to be accountable to them. And I think volunteers appreciate knowing that they can be a part of this process.
Eden: From the feedback we’re getting, they do! We’ve long worked to increase community accountability and transparency throughout the review process, but I think over the past few years especially, our understanding of these values and how they translate into our work has really changed.
Jeremiah: Absolutely. And it’s not only about accountability to our students and volunteers, it’s also accountability internally. If we’re asking our volunteers to share their racial equity journeys and to talk openly and think critically about race and racism, that requires us internally as staff to engage with those same questions, and that we are able to articulate our shared values in meaningful ways. This work—our work—is to make sure we are always doing that. A lot of times, organizations are so focused on their externally facing racial equity work, but we can’t ask our volunteers to do something if we’re not doing it ourselves.
How has this changed the experience for volunteers?
Eden: We’ve seen such a willingness to engage with the reflection questions around folks’ relationship to race. People really have shared personal stories and honest reflections of their lives. They’ve been thankful and excited at the direction. Most people just seem excited for the opportunity to engage in conversations about racial equity.
Jeremiah: What we want to cultivate is a diverse cohort of volunteers across our region that are engaging with the review process from a regional perspective. That means asking important questions around race and equity. It means that we are inviting volunteers to dig into their experience with these topics. For example, last year we added a question asking volunteers to reflect on the first time they recognized their race. For us, it’s the only way to really understand where volunteers are at in terms of their background, lived experiences, and how they view the world.
We’ve received so much more positive affirmation than we expected—so much encouragement around focusing on equity and racial justice. And, I think it’s important to name that, for any feedback we’ve gotten from people questioning the direction or who don’t understand our values, it’s just provided us with opportunities to have more in-depth conversations with volunteers about Pride Foundation’s values and why they’re important to us. It helps clarify and build a foundation for working together.
What’s next? What are we considering for future changes for the program?
Eden: Our changes to the scholarship program as a whole thus far have been guided by two main questions:
- How do we better center LGBTQ+ students in our scholarship program?
- How is racism at play…
- in educational systems and in creating systemic barriers that students have had to overcome?
- in every part of our scholarship program—from outreach, to our application, to the review, and evaluation form?
All changes to the volunteer orientation and review process in the future will continue to ask these same questions. As for specific changes right this second, we don’t really know. We just know that the world is changing and so we will too.
Jeremiah: Definitely—there’s still a lot we want to do better on. In order for us to keep doing this work, and keep doing well by our students, we will continue to adapt.
The goal is to keep changing to center students and student experience. Next year and the year after, things will change—but we don’t know what those are yet. As we see how this year goes, we can look to the future, we’ll have a better idea of the changes to make to ensure our volunteers are coming with shared values and a wealth of background knowledge.
And as we’re making changes, we will work to consistently communicate how and why. As an organization that is made up of community and accountable to community, we want folks to know that every single change we make is intentional, what our intentions are, and the history that has brought us to this moment.