Inspired to uplift
Photo by Ashley Ryan September 11, 2019
From drag show to trans event, alumnus Jay Alston puts his passion to work
Transition programming for University of Delaware students begins with a formal welcome weekend and continues through the first two weeks of classes each fall. The festive lights, sounds and snacks of this opening celebration belie its true purpose: boosting retention and graduation rates as well as students’ overall satisfaction with their choice of school.
Meet-and-greets, icebreakers and other activities serve as opportunities to connect with faculty and staff as well as meet other students, often over shared interests and often in group settings. The connections often lead to new lifelong passions and in some cases, a blank slate on which to freely write one’s future. That is exactly what happened for Jay Alston, an Honors Program Distinguished Scholar who graduated from UD in 2017.
Members of the UD community may recognize Alston as the founding president of speQtrum, a registered student organization for queer students of color, or as the president of the main LGBTQ+ student group which hosts Delaware’s largest annual drag show and is known today as the Lavender Programming Board. Alston was also tapped as a student consultant for several University initiatives, including the Multicultural Center Working Group. The gumption to lead was not new for this former high school Gay-Straight Alliance co-president. Opportunities to further those interests and skills, however — networking and fundraising, event planning and logistics, advising, allyship and more — have proven invaluable.
“I have always been inspired to uplift people who are more marginalized than I am,” Alston said. “Knowing I’ve connected those voices with the places I can access and my areas of influence is ultimately what helps me feel good at the end of the day.”
Following graduation, Alston moved to Philadelphia and soon connected with the Mazzoni Center for LGBTQ Health and Well-Being. His first position as a development assistant involved facilitating the gift process and managing donor relations.
The Mazzoni Center is known, among other things, for hosting the largest, free, trans-specific event in the world: the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, which grows every year. Seeing opportunities to improve conference processes and put more of his expertise to work, after less than a year Alston was able to help create and then apply for the position of technology and data coordinator, which he holds today. “I just jumped in there and saw where they needed assistance,” he said.
That attitude, well known within a University community that makes an outsized impact on the world, is also what led Alston to apply to be an inaugural member of the LGBT Community Leadership Pipeline. This new initiative through Philadelphia’s offices of LGBT Affairs, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and the mayor is an effort to increase and enrich the diversity of board membership within local LGBTQ organizations.
Alston expected to be matched with a relevant service organization through this program — but when his participation concluded this summer, he was thrilled to receive a call from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office informing him that the mayor would instead like to appoint him to the city’s Commission on LGBT Affairs. Alston expects that much of his work as a city commissioner will be done in addition to his full time work at Mazzoni Center. “I’m looking forward to listening,” he said, “particularly to voices who are not often centered in conversations about their marginalization and their needs.”
Students can benefit from informal and formal professional development opportunities at every stage of their UD experience. New students are encouraged to take part in the Involvement Fair held at the beginning of each fall and spring semester, and to connect with student groups and opportunities year-round on Student Central. Networking, internships, jobs and more also abound at the upcoming Fall Career and Internship Fairs on Thursday, Sept. 12, for both students and alumni.
More about Student Life
The Division of Student Life includes the Office of the Dean of Students, Center for Black Culture, Center for Counseling and Student Development, Disability Support Services, Fraternity and Sorority Leadership and Learning, Office of Student Conduct, Orientation and Transition Programs, Residence Life and Housing, Student Diversity and Inclusion, Student Health Services, Student Services for Athletes, Student Wellness and Health Promotion, UD Career Center, and the University Student Centers. For more information about Student Life, visit the website.