Rainbow Graduation | May 20, 2020

The Rainbow Graduation Celebration honors the achievements of Rutgers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) identified undergraduate and graduate students. The event acknowledges the challenges and triumphs experienced in their careers here at Rutgers University. We use this occasion to honor students who have continued our traditions of pride and activism. The celebration is a complement to a traditional graduation ceremony such as University Commencement or other celebrations hosted by academic departments. Registrants will receive a Rainbow Graduation certificate as well as a rainbow graduation tassel (limited supply only).

Welcome Address

Keywuan Caulk, Director (Interim), The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

Awards

The Lionel Cuffie Award for Activism and Excellence will be given to a graduating senior who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or queer spectrum (LGBTQIA+) and has contributed substantially to growing and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community during their Rutgers tenure. The awardee will receive an award and a gift of $500. 

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Award Criteria:

  • Completion of the Undergraduate Degree in May 2020
  • Active in the LGBTQIA+ communities on or off-campus for at least two years.
  • Has worked to reduce prejudice against and to promote understanding of LGBTQIA communities and issues
  • Has worked with other campus or community groups to build intercultural bridges 

Lionel Cuffie was a fearless leader and co-founder of the first LGBTQIA student organization on campus in 1969, the Student Homophile League. This group was the 2nd college campus-based student organization in the country, and faced a harsh campus climate when they first formed. Lionel Cuffie, defined SHL as group which posited that “…bigotry and emotional prejudice against homosexuals is unjust” – a progressive sentiment at the time. Cuffie, an African American activist, became the group’s first chairman and most visible presence in campus politics over the next two years The organization founded as the “Student Homophile League” survived through decades of campus evolution, and is now known as the Queer Student Alliance (QSA). Lionel Cuffie’s legacy lives on through this organization, and we mark his story through our annual award honoring student leaders and activists. Learn more about Lionel Cuffie.

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Lionel Cuffie Award Presenter: Keywuan Caulk, Director (Interim), The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

Lionel Cuffie Award Honoree: Cass Sicherer, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts, Minor in Political Science

In February of 1988, the former President of Rutgers University, Edward J. Bloustein, created the President’s Select Committee for Lesbian-Gay Concerns whose mission it was to address the issues of LGBTQIA+ students as well as University faculty members. In the spring of 1988, the Select Committee for Lesbian and Gay Concerns assembled and presented specific courses of action the university could take to seriously mitigate the injustices directed towards the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. 

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 This group recommended the creation of a center, and SJE was established in 1992 under the direction of Dr. Cheryl Clarke. Dr. Clarke morphed the committee into a taskforce, and the group continued to advocate for social change well into the late 1990’s. In the spirit of the taskforce, we recognize our LGBTQIA+ student leaders who have made exceptional impact on our communities.

Award Criteria:
• Completion of the Undergraduate Degree in May 2020
• Active in LGBTQIA+ communities on or off-campus
• Has worked to reduce prejudice against and to promote understanding of LGBTQIA+ communities and issues 

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LGBTQIA+ Taskforce Award Presenter: AnnMarie Burg, Administrative Assistant, The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities 

Rachelle Rivera

LGBTQIA+ Taskforce Award Honoree: Rachelle Rivera, School of Arts and Sciences; Major: Communication, Minor: Spanish

“The Center for Social Justice and LGBT Communities started off as a place of work, but soon became my home away from home. My SJE fam has always made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I am forever thankful for the people I have met, bonds and relationships that were formed, laughs that were shared, and the long-lasting memories that were created!” -Rachelle Rivera

LGBTQIA+ Taskforce Award Honoree: Matthew Fontana, School of Arts and Sciences, Psychology Major/Sociology Minor 

“I’m so honored to be receiving this award, I never imagined that my time at Rutgers would lead to this. I’m so proud to be a part of such an incredible community with such a long history that I was able to contribute to. From day one, my time at Rutgers has revolved around the LGBT+ community on campus and I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with and become friends with. I would be a completely different person if it wasn’t for the amazing people at SJE. I’m glad I could help to create a more welcoming, inclusive environment that celebrates people of all identities and I know it will only continue to grow after I graduate.” Matthew Fontana

In 1992, the Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities was founded under the direction of Dr. Cheryl Clarke. The office was designed to monitor the implementation of policies aimed at creating an environment free of fear, violence, or harassment. Dr. Clarke oversaw the creation of the Bias Prevention and Education committee, disability services, and played a leadership role on the newly formed Committee to Advance our Common Purposes. Dr. Clarke also continued advising LGBTQIA student organizations in their programming efforts. 

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Further, Dr. Clarke established an LGBT Faculty/Staff Liaison program which allows trained faculty/staff members on the New Brunswick campus to serve as dedicated resources for LGBT students in their respective areas. Dr. Clarke served as director of the office until 2009, when she was elevated to Dean of Students for Livingston Campus. Dr. Clarke retired from Rutgers in 2013. 

Today we honor Cheryl Clarke’s legacy with an award in her name which is granted to a faculty or staff member who has advocated for the LGBTQA community within their roles on campus.

Award criteria:

  • Current Rutgers faculty or staff member
  • Demonstrates high level of involvement and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ communities at Rutgers 

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Dr. Cheryl Clarke Award Presenter: Lindsay Jeffers, Assistant Director of Programming (Interim), The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

Dr. Cheryl Clarke Award Honoree: Juli Hibbard, RU-NB registrar

Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft was hired by the Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities in 2012 as Assistant Director. Zaneta’s leadership brought the creation of our first thematic program series dedicated to trans experiences (Trans Visibility & Empowerment Week) and our first ever LGBTQIA+ Welcome Week.

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After being elevated to Director in 2014, her advocacy supported the creation of gender-inclusive housing options on campus, the implementation of a preferred name system, and improvements to trans-affirming healthcare on campus. Under Dr. Rago-Craft’s leadership, was repeatedly recognized as being among the top 30 most LGBT-friendly campuses by Campus Pride. 

The Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft award will be granted to outstanding members of our community who offer exceptional leadership, campus involvement and commitment to campus change. 

Award criteria:

  • Demonstrates leadership and campus involvement in LGBTQIA+ communities at Rutgers

  • Commitment to positive change on campus which advances LGBTQIA+ communities

  • May be awarded to graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, or other Rutgers community member 

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Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft Award Presenter: Keywuan Caulk, Director (Interim), The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft Award Honoree: Dr. Perry Halkitis

“I am extremely honored to have received the Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft Award, especially given the enormous respect I have for the award namesake. For over 2 decades I have merged my skills as a scholar with that of an activist fighting for the rights of those infected with and affected by HIV, as well as the rights and health of the LGBTQ+ population. I have cherished all aspects of my work related to community building and empowerment through the dissemination and translation of innovative, timely, and valuable public health research that I and my team of incredible students (hundreds during the last 20 years) at the Center for Health, Identity Behavior & Prevention Studies (www.chibps.org) have undertaken. Most recently working with my first PhD graduate at Rutgers, Dr. Kristen Krause, we have been instrumental in helping the New Jersey Department of Health begin to develop a roll out of the collection of SOGI data on all health intake forms. I am proud to be a Scarlet Knight and am proud to be an out gay man.” Dr. Perry Halkitis

Congratulations Class of 2020

Turn up your audio as we announce this year’s Rainbow Graduates!

Special Recognition for Graduate Students

Shannon Sy
Master of Education in College Student Affairs

“As an undergraduate at Rutgers, it took me a while to find a sense of belonging. It wasn’t until I got involved on campus that I found community. Graduating in 2018 with my bachelor’s, I knew that a couple things were still missing; my understanding of self, self love, and self acceptance.

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When I came back to Rutgers in the fall to start my Master of Education in College Student Affairs, one of the very first things I did was visit the Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities. At SJE, I not only found folx who work tirelessly and wholeheartedly to promote inclusion, visibility, and resilience, but I also began to find myself. Volunteering and being involved with SJE provided me the opportunity to learn about myself and share my story with others. After participating in the SafeR Space and Liaison Network trainings, presenting for Central NJ’s Annual Gay Straight Alliance Forum, and showing support in various SJE events, I have become a version of myself I had only dreamt of becoming. Referencing Michelle Obama, I believe I am still “becoming” as the journey does not end. However I am and always will be grateful that my journey of self love started with the help of SJE. I can only hope to pass it forward.”

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Vanessa Danek
Master of Education in College Student Affairs

“While in the College Student Affairs master’s program, I have spent the past two years serving as a Hall Director for Residence Life. 

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I was fortunate enough to begin working with the SJE in Spring 2019, where I worked to help develop a diversity, equity, and inclusion certificate program for faculty and staff.  This work has helped me to strengthen my passion for social justice education and advocacy in higher education and student affairs, which I am excited to pursue in my professional career. I am so grateful for being welcomed into the SJE family, as it has truly been one of my most meaningful experiences at Rutgers and has helped me find a home here.”

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Morgan Hunlen
Master of Urban Planning and Public Policy

“My time in graduate school at Rutgers has been the best years of my life. 

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I feel like I really found myself on the banks of the Old Raritan, and I’m so happy that I got to participate in building a wonderful community of LGBT+ people at the SJE. These wonderful memories will surely stick with me forever.” 

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Julianna Muya
Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary

“I have truly enjoyed the work that I have been able to perform at SJE for the greater queer community.

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I believe that faith is a necessary imaginary, required for envisioning and re-visioning the possibilities of a better world. During my time at RU I have done my best to help hold space for trans and non-binary folk who are asking the hard questions about the world around them. My goal has always been to offer a space that allows for a creative imagination, thoughtful reflection and collaborative activism. I am so grateful for the space that SJE provided me with, in order to do this important work.” 

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Daria Martin
Master of Education in Social Studies 

“Throughout my time at Rutgers, I found myself lucky enough to serve in many roles at the Center: office assistant, office manager, Alumni project intern, Queer Caucus VP/President, and President of Douglass Q/ummunity (now Ultra Violet!).

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Whatever role I served in, it was the support and guidance offered to me by the professional staff at the Center that enabled me to not only survive, but to thrive both during my undergraduate years, and now as I graduate with my Master’s degree in Social Studies Education. Thank you for this recognition, and congratulations to all of the award winners and graduates!” 

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Kristen Krause
PhD in Public Health 

“Two years ago, I transferred to Rutgers in a unique position to finish my PhD requirements under the direction of my mentor Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, Dean of the School of Public Health.

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Since my arrival here, I’ve grown so much not only as a scholar and teacher but also as a person. I feel so privileged to work with and for the LGBTQ+ community at the School of Public Health and in greater New Jersey. I look forward to continuing this work well into the future!” 

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Class of 2020 Memories and Shout Outs

“It’s been a hard but wonderful experience. Celebrating achievement with family and friends.”

-Angel R. Fuentes-Pesquera, Master in Special Education 

“The Center for Social Justice and LGBT Communities started off as a place of work, but soon became my home away from home. My SJE fam has always made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I am forever thankful for the people I have met, bonds and relationships that were formed, laughs that were shared, and the long-lasting memories that were created! <3”

-Rachelle Rivera, School of Arts and Sciences; Major: Communication, Minor: Spanish 

-Erik Esqueda, Student Affairs Masters Program

“Congratulations! So proud of all that you have accomplished. I hope you’re able to take the lessons, and memories from the past few years and carry them with you on the next steps of your journey.”

Yakima Melton, Student Affairs Staff Member 

-Zaneta Rago-Craft, Former Director

-Lindsay Jeffers, Assistant Director of Programming (Interim), The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

-AnnMarie Burg, Administrative Assistant, The Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities

“Matthew and Cass have been such amazing friends to me while we’ve both been at Rutgers! I was so blessed to live with Matt my sophomore/his junior year and I always enjoy talking to him about all the various shows and games we both like (and even some things the other doesn’t know anything about). 

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I will miss him so much as he graduates and goes on to do amazing things! If I say any more I might cry ;-; Cass is always a joy to be around and I have learned a hell of a lot from them over the years! Whether its impromptu sex education or dealings with university bureaucracy, Cass always has some neat insight that is pretty valuable! Hopefully being at Rutgers Newark means they will pay visits?”

-Shaan Williams, Psychology Major/Social Justice Minor 

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“Being involved with the community on campus, especially through SJE, has given me so many opportunities. I’ve gained so much experience and have made so many friends for life. For the first time I truly felt accepted and respected for who I am.”

Matthew Fontana, School of Arts and Sciences, Psychology Major/Sociology Minor 

25 Voices of Rutgers LGBTQIA+ Alumni

Learn more about Rutgers LGBTQIA+ history and alumni. In February of 1988, the former President of Rutgers University, Edward J. Bloustein, created the President’s Select Committee for Lesbian-Gay Concerns which addressed the issues of gay and lesbian students as well as University faculty/staff members. In 1988, the Select Committee for Lesbian and Gay Concerns assembled and presented specific courses of action the university could take to seriously mitigate the injustices directed towards LGBT people on campus. Learn more about the 25 notable Rutgers LGBTQIA+ Alumni

Engage with us on May 20, 2020!

Please consider taking part in our social media activities for chances to win a prize throughout the day. Post on your Twitter or Instagram channel and tag @RUSJELGBT and use #RURainbowGrad for a chance to be randomly selected for a prize for every activity. If you are selected, we will notify you via social media direct message.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Time Activity Prize Giveaway
9AM Lionel Cuffie, Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft, and Dr. Cheryl Clarke Award Winners Announced Awards vary
10AM My Queer Life in GIFs: Fill in our “My Queer Life On-Campus Told in GIFs” template, post to your Insta/FB story, and tag #RURainbowGrad @RUSJELGBT SJE Rainbow Golf Umbrella
12PM Tassel Takeover: Post a pic or boomerang of you and your rainbow tassel and tag #RURainbowGrad @RUSJELGBT SJE Rainbow Mug
2PM SJE LGBTQIA+ Bingo: Fill in our LGBTQIA+ Bingo template, post to your Insta/FB story, and tag #RURainbowGrad @RUSJELGBT SJE Pride T-Shirt
4PM SJE Allies Hour: Post a picture/tell us what allyship means to you and tag #RURainbowGrad @RUSJELGBT SJE Rainbow Mug
6PM Rainbow Alumni League Happy Hour Mixer (must be registered to receive virtual invitation) More info to be announced
8PM SJE Memories: Share your favorite SJE memory with a picture, video, or words to social media and tag #RURainbowGrad @RUSJELGBT Surprise Gift Bundle