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New scholarship will support students and honor a longtime LGBTQIA+ champion

The Dorothy Fillmore Scholarship will help VCU students actively engaged with the LGBTQIA+ community who face housing instability, food insecurity, tuition issues or other financial hurdles.
hand holding a rainbow colored heart [View Image]

VCU’s LGBTQIA+ community will soon gain a much-needed resource thanks to a new scholarship initiated by Equality VCU that will support LGBTQIA+ students and their allies.

Once fully funded, the Dorothy Fillmore Scholarship — named after a longtime VCU employee and LGBTQIA+ champion — will serve as an unrestricted fund to help students affected by housing instability, food insecurity, tuition issues or other expenses related to their college experience. To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be actively engaged with the LGBTQIA+ community and be full-time degree-seeking students. Preference may be given to students who are the first in their family to attend college or who have been financially separated from their family.

“We thought it was important to start this scholarship,” said Donna Coghill, community engagement librarian and coordinator of campus partnerships at James Branch Cabell Library and a member of the Equality VCU committee that created the scholarship. “These students are in such great need. I have had students come to me because their parents cut them off when they came out. It just breaks my heart.”

The committee decided to name the scholarship in honor of Fillmore, who retired last July as director of academic operations for the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“We couldn’t think of anyone more deserving to name it after,” said Coghill, who is also a donor to the scholarship. “She has done so much for the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Fillmore spent 35 years advocating for LGBTQIA+ students, staff and faculty at VCU as well as for the greater Richmond community. She has received several awards for her work, including the 1993 Governor’s Silver Medal for Volunteerism, the Commonwealth of Virginia Award for her volunteer work with HIV/AIDS, the Equality VCU Burnside Watstein LGBTQIA Award and the 2016 VCU President’s Inclusive Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I am so grateful to be a part of this scholarship and so honored that Equality VCU wanted to name the scholarship after me. I am going to do everything I can to support it and promote it,” said Fillmore, who came out as lesbian in her 30s.

Shelly Laurenzo, a longtime family friend of Fillmore’s and a donor to the scholarship, is pleased it was named in her honor.

“It’s such an honor to the work she has always done. She is a proponent of education and inclusivity and having this named after her is really fitting,” Laurenzo said.

Trevor Worden, university gift officer in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, spearheaded the fundraising and crowdfunding effort for Equality VCU at the committee’s request.Michael Rao handing Dorothy Fillmore an award [View Image]Dorothy Fillmore and VCU President Michael Rao at the 2016 Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment. (File photo)

“Queer issues are close to my heart and head,” said Worden, who came out as gay at age 21. “I’ve seen how coming out early can affect the person and their trajectory.”

Worden has spoken with many queer students who were working full-time jobs and trying to finish their degrees. “Having the ability to award the scholarship money will help them get a degree quicker,” he said.

The scholarship is fully endowed and will gain interest for the next 18 months. Equality VCU anticipates being able to award the first scholarship as early as late 2022 or early 2023.

“We hope to be able to give around $3,000 for the first scholarship, but it depends on various factors, including the stock market,” Worden said. “As it sits for years to come, the interest will grow every year and the amount of the scholarship will increase, which is incredible.”

Michael Fuller graduated from VCU in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and has been a supporter of the university ever since. He previously set up a 10-year gift agreement to VCU that partially focused on LGBTQIA+ issues, and plans to continue to support the Fillmore scholarship.

“I have been fortunate to have a successful corporate career at IBM for 20 years and IBM offered matching grants,” said Fuller, who was one of the first recipients of the Equality VCU Burnside Watstein LGBTQIA Award. “When I went to school at VCU, it was such an open and encouraging place. It’s where I came to terms with being gay. I always felt like I gained a lot at VCU. The skills I learned there helped me advance, and I’m a believer in giving back.”

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