Alumni gift funds new LGBTQ+ initiatives in dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania

An ad for Penn LBGT Center's "Dance Outside With Pride" event.

University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Dental Medicine LGBT Center is in the midst of Pride celebrations this month, including their first hybrid dance class, this week’s Dance Outside W/ Pride event featuring choreographer Devon Sinclair. Earlier this year, the Center had cause for celebration as well: Penn Dental Medicine LGBT Center received a major alumni gift of $50,000 to establish an LGBTQ+ Fund with a goal to identify LGBTQ+ based biases, specifically in the dental profession, with ways to dispel the biases.

The $50,000 leadership gift will eventually be endowed to support research and program in perpetuity. According to Penn Dental, the fund has set a top priority to explore research and programming that can lead to best-practice models, as well as offer policy recommendations that could have profession-wide impact through scholarly publications.

Anticipated research and programming activities for the LGBTQ+ Fund at Penn Dental Medicine

  • Data collection, analysis, and dissemination of results of attitudinal surveys about comfort levels and concerns.
  • Internal climate surveys of the Penn Dental Medicine community.
  • Development of enduring resources to support current and future students.
  • Research opportunities to work collaboratively with other offices at the university to explore LGBTQ+ issues more broadly.
  • Training programs exploring sexual orientation and gender identity and bias and offering guidance for managing difficult conversations.
  • Invited speakers and conferences/symposia focusing on topics related to the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Resources for education and advocacy so all Penn Dental Medicine community members, regardless of actual or perceived gender identity and sexual orientation, are supported to live authentically.

The fund is the first dedicated resource at Penn Dental Medicine to support such efforts. The school plans to work together with Penn’s LGBT Center and other relevant university resources and personnel on the fund’s initiatives. The LGBT Center’s mission is to enrich the experiences, foster success, celebrate victories, and affirm the existence of Penn’s LGBTQ+ undergraduates, professional and graduate students, staff, faculty, and alum using the lenses of social justice and intersectionality. Through education, support, and advocacy, the LGBT Center cultivates a campus climate where all students, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, can live authentically.

Penn Dental Medicine celebrates Pride: Erin Cross, Director of Penn’s LGBT Center, shown, with Dean Mark Wolff at the School's inaugural Pride Celebration in 2019.
(Courtesy Penn Dental Medicine) Penn Dental Medicine celebrates Pride: Erin Cross, Director of Penn’s LGBT Center, shown, with Dean Mark Wolff at the School’s inaugural Pride Celebration in 2019.

More about The University of Pennsylvania’s LBGT Center

In 2017, Erin Cross was named the second ever director of the LBGT Center at the University of Pennsylvania, according to the school’s Almanac. Prior to that, Cross dedicated her efforts as the Center’s senior associate director working as part of a team led by longtime Director Bob Schoenberg, who was hired as the center’s first staff member in the 1980s.

At that time, The Daily Pennsylvanian featured this comment from Cross:

“I am thrilled to continue my career as director of the LGBT Center, my professional home,” Cross said in a statement. “Advising students, advocating for meaningful change, and building bridges across the Penn community have been, and will continue to be, my highest priorities. The LGBT Center is a welcoming space, a safe space, and an enduring space for all who enter.”

Erin Cross, on her 2017 appointment as Director of the LBGT Center at the University of Pennsylvania

With the help of one of the largest centers for LGBT students, Penn Dental Medicine celebrates Pride

According to that same article, the Center was founded in 1982 as one of the first places of its kind on a college campus and today is one of the largest centers for LGBT students in the country, equipped with a team of full-time staff, work-study students and affiliated groups. In 2019, Penn Dental Medicine presented its First Annual Penn Dental Medicine Pride Celebration and Inaugural LGBTWiA+ Advocacy Awards.

Cross has been honored as a Model of Excellence, Penn’s highest staff honor, four times. Cross earned a doctorate from Penn’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) and the PhD specialized in queer, gender, and learning theories in out-of-school contexts. She teaches annually at GSE and was a co-primary investigator on a Provost’s Excellence through Diversity Fund grant around inclusion of LGBTQ students and topics in professional education.

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, according to its website, holds values that transcend the actions of the organization. The LGBT Center is welcoming of everyone, respecting of varied ways of being, maintains confidentiality, makes no assumptions, strives to end all forms of oppression, fosters and maintains a sense of community, recognizes forbearers’ contributions, believes in giving back, and being open to feedback.

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