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‘A Form of Affirmation’: Harvard Social Transition Fund Seeks Institutional Support

The Office of BGLTQ Student Life is located in the basement of Thayer Hall.
The Office of BGLTQ Student Life is located in the basement of Thayer Hall. By Jennifer Z. Liang
By Cam E. Kettles and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

This year, the Social Transition Fund — a project that helps students purchase gender-affirming care and products — requested $10,000 in funding from the Harvard Undergraduate Association, the College’s student government body.

Though the program would only receive $6,000, the figure was enough to supply nearly two-thirds of the total funding that was requested last year, fulfilling almost all of its nearly 100 applications.

The Social Transition Fund has been a student-driven initiative since its launch in fall 2020. In collaboration with Queer Students and Allies, student interns in the Office of BGLTQ Student Life sought funding — first from the since-dissolved Undergraduate Council and now from the HUA — to support transgender undergraduates.

Atlas Sanogo ’24, co-president of the QSA and a former intern in the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, said the fund allows students the ability to present their gender expression.

“Wherever there is a disconnect between how people read you and how you are read, it tends to result in a lot of really negative feelings of gender dysphoria, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, just like overall, it tends to be very detrimental to people’s functioning,” Sanogo said. “We want to generally avoid that as much as possible and just allow people to express themselves in ways that feel congruent with who they are.”

Sanogo said the fund has allowed students to purchase suits and dresses for formal events, makeup, binders, and haircuts to support students’ gender affirmation socially.

“This is a resource that I have taken advantage of in my time here and it has been so, so helpful,” Sanogo added. “I have to work to pay tuition and so I don’t have a lot of leftover money just to buy random things, so it’s just really helpful whenever that extra support can come in.”

Brit G. Shrader ’23-’24, one of two interns at the BGLTQ now leading the Social Transition Fund, said running the program is “one of the most meaningful things that I do at Harvard.”

Still, Shrader said the Social Transition Fund remains in a “precarious situation.” In its current form, the fund must be renewed for funding through the HUA each year — which requires it to be voted on by an ever-changing group of students.

Once the Social Transition Fund receives funding from the HUA, the money embarks on a winding path — wired first from Harvard College to the HUA, then to the QSA and BGLTQ office before finally reaching student applicants.

The Social Transition Fund is dependent on continual support from the Harvard Undergraduate Association and its ever-changing membership.
The Social Transition Fund is dependent on continual support from the Harvard Undergraduate Association and its ever-changing membership. By Addison Y. Liu

For Shrader, the goal is to achieve more permanent, institutional backing for the fund.

“What I would want to see in the future is an institutionalization of this — where it’s a part of financial aid packages or support packages that Harvard itself offers its students,” they said.

The desire for more institutional support is not new — former HUA Co-President Travis Allen Johnson ’24 said he met with administrators during his term to ask them to fund the program directly.

The goal, Johnson said, was for the fund to avoid depending on “the whims of whomever is leading student government.”

While Johnson said conversations with administrators suggested they were supportive of and looking into the idea, Harvard does not currently fund the program.

Shrader noted another barrier to receiving funding from the College is that the Office of BGLTQ Student Life is not permitted to grant funding to individual students.

“This is a student organization-created initiative that remains student-run; we support student mutual aid,” wrote Meagan von Rohr, the office’s assistant director. “None of the grant programs through the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion unit fund individual students.”

Despite hoping for institutional support for the program, Shrader emphasized the important role the fund already plays in supporting trans students on campus.

“You don’t really see any other programs like it where you provide direct financial support, especially to a hyper-marginalized community,” they said. “Every year, we send out a feedback form, and the comments are always like, ‘This program has made such a difference.’”

“The fact that it exists as a resource is a form of affirmation for students,” Shrader added. “Saying, ‘There’s a community that’s here and that cares about you.’”

Benjy Wall-Feng ’25 — a Crimson Magazine editor and an intern in the Office of BGLTQ Student Life — said the fund exists “because there is a gap between what trans students need and what they can get” at Harvard.

“This is not a catch-all blanket statement for the trans community,” Wall-Feng said. “It’s a specific thing, which has had a really powerful effect.”

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at claire.yuan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

This piece is part of The Crimson’s 2023 Pride Month special issue.

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