Grinnell Rainbow Alumni becomes first alumni affinity group

Dec. 14, 2023 — The student years at Grinnell College were a time of personal and academic awakening for many members of the Grinnell Rainbow Alumni, the College’s first alumni affinity group. 

For some this included the full realization of their sexual or gender identity as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. There wasn’t an alumni group in place back then to lend a hand and provide resources. There is now. 

Rick Rose ’88, left, Fae Townsend  ’01, Randell Christopher ’87, and Connor Stanfield ’21
Grinnell Rainbow Alumni Steering Committee members Rick Rose ’88, left, Fae Townsend  ’01, Randell Christopher ’87, and Connor Stanfield ’21 pose for a group photo Nov. 11 at the Rainbow Alumni Kick-off Event during Multicultural Reunion 2023.

“Part of the push behind forming the Rainbow Alumni goes back to the fact some people didn’t necessarily have the best experience at Grinnell,” says Rick Rose ’88, Grinnell Rainbow Alumni co–chair. “There was a lot of interest in connecting with current students and organizations on campus to be able to support them, especially given the wave of anti-LGBTQ animus in Iowa and nationwide. An important purpose of the group is to provide a platform for people to be able to do that.”

Affinity groups create space for Grinnellians of shared identities to connect on meaningful levels beyond the traditional class year and regional structure.

Sarah Smith-Benanti, assistant director of alumni and donor relations for diverse communities, says it’s been a goal of hers to create multiple entry points for alumni to engage with the College and affinity groups are one of those. Smith-Benanti plans to start Black and Latinx affinity groups in 2024.

Sarah Smith-Benanti
   Sarah Smith-Benanti

“Affinity groups create space for alumni of a shared identity to come together and connect through the experience of holding that identity,” she says. “Affinity groups will increase the visibility of minoritized alumni, lift up diverse leaders, and give voice to their unique experiences.”

On par with student support, The Grinnell Rainbow Alumni will create opportunities for LGBTQIA+ alumni to engage with each other and the College, create and support LGBTQIA+ identity held spaces and networks, and foster a sense of community.

“We also want to be a resource for staff and the administration,” Rose says. “It may mean lending expertise in a particular area or just being a sounding board for ideas. And of course, we’ll continue to support the Stonewall Resource Center.”

While the idea for a LGBTQIA+ alumni group had been around for a while, a group of volunteers have spent the last year making it a reality. A survey was sent out in 2022 to find alums who were interested in forming the group. Respondents created a steering committee to put together bylaws to make sure that the group was working with a common set of rules and expectations, Rose says. The group officially was launched last month during Multicultural Reunion 2023.

“It’s thrilling to be able to be part of getting it off the ground,” Rose says. “We spent the past year putting together the infrastructure of the group to help make sure it’s sustainable for the long run. Since this is the first group of its kind, we’re kind of feeling our way through how to make an effective alumni affinity group.”

The Grinnell Rainbow Alumni plan to hold regional events and get-togethers during Pride month around the country, according to Event Coordinator Connor Stanfield ’21. Programing Coordinator Carly Jerome ’11 is developing programming at annual reunions on campus and online, and exploring how alumni want to participate in a virtual environment. Storytelling and Networking Coordinator Fae Townsend  ’01 is fostering an online community on Discord, a group discussion platform, to provide a way for alumni to tell their own stories in a welcoming space. They hope some of these stories will become part of the ongoing Multicultural Archive project.

Rick Rose chats with fellow alumni at the Multicultural Reunion Welcome Reception
Rick Rose chats with fellow alumni at the Multicultural Reunion Welcome Reception on Nov. 10.

Another critical function of the affinity group is support for a student internship and scholarship. Rose and fellow co-chair Phoebe Lostroh ’94 joined with Fundraising Coordinators CW Hobbs ’75 and Randell Christopher ’87 to lead fundraising efforts for the Rainbow Alumni Endowed Internship Fund and Rainbow Alumni Endowed Scholarship Fund.

The internship fund has met the threshold to be endowed (although it seeks additional donors) and will be in place next summer for a student to intern on or off campus. External internships would take place at organizations or projects dedicated to advancing the LGBTQIA+ community, or that target issues specific to the community. For on-campus internships, the fund will prioritize projects directly related to the College’s LGBTQIA+ community and its social, historical, or general interests. Student recipients are not required to identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We hope establishment of this fund enables current students to develop more fully their potential both as individuals and as members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Rose says. “We also hope that what they bring back from their internships will enrich the wider Grinnell College campus. We’ve had some wonderful support to endow the internship fund, and we’re working on reaching the minimum level to endow the scholarship fund.”

The scholarship fund will support students who serve the community as well as students who face financial and personal hardship because they have been rejected from their families because of their identity. 

“This scholarship could make the difference between them being able to attend or not attend Grinnell,” Rose says. “It taps into a deep emotional well of being rejected by family, which unfortunately hits home for a lot of people in the community. This fund seeks to address those financial shortcomings.”

Rose acknowledges it was ambitious to start two funds, plan for events and programming, and set up a Discord community, while still trying to get the Rainbow Alumni off and running. “So why do this? Because there’s a need for it all honestly. We want to focus the needs and abilities of alumni to connect with each other, and to students and the College. We want to build on the work of individuals from past years, to make it easier to help.” 

Current Grinnell Rainbow Alumni members range in class years from the 1950s to 2020s. Rose says there are a number of opportunities for alums to get involved. 

“You are not required to identify as LGBTQIA+ to be part of this group. You can be an ally or supporter,” he says. “There is still a lot of opportunity for people to volunteer whether it’s time, talent, or treasure, or all three of those. Part of the reason for the group is just to have fun to create programming that is fun for alums and students. I know when I was a student, I would have loved connecting with alumni.” 

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information

The Grinnell Rainbow Alumni webpage has more details about the affinity group, becoming a member, and donating to the internship and scholarship funds.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.