University of Michigan launches Trans Belonging Fund

Trans Belonging Fund graphic

November 6, 2023  |  By Nick Pfost

The University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center is launching a new fund aimed at helping transgender students belong and succeed. The Trans Belonging Fund will enhance programming and initiatives supporting trans and nonbinary students and increase education on gender for the larger campus community.

Marchell (AB ’84) and Jeffrey Willian gave the lead gift, $50,000, establishing the fund to inspire others to support trans students, as well. The Willians believe unconditional support and care are critical for the trans community, and they chose Michigan because of the work of Spectrum Center and Marchell’s deep love of the university.

A proud alumna, Marchell said attending U-M was one of the most significant moments of her life. “It affected so much of who I am.” It was a dream of her father’s—one which she relished fulfilling.

The gift was also personal in one other important, and beautiful, way: It was inspired by their son, Kel. Marchell and Jeffrey have seen obstacles placed in the way of trans students through Kel’s eyes—and their hearts break, as any parents’ would, when their child experiences loneliness or needs support.

“Family is so important, but it’s not enough,” said Marchell Willian. Students need community and support on campus to feel they belong, she added. “They need understanding. They need role models. They need resources for their mental health and navigating shame and toxic politics.”

Funding will be used for support services and wellness, education and training, and events and community-building initiatives. The Willians previously catalyzed U-M’s George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, and have also generously supported funding for first generation college students.

“Our hearts are full and we’re so grateful to Marchell and Jeffrey,” said Spectrum Center Director Jesse Beal. “This fund will allow Spectrum to enhance our initiatives for trans and nonbinary students, and to innovate new programming to serve our students in years to come. As a nonbinary person and the parent of a trans son, I am deeply moved by Marchell and Jeffrey's love and commitment to their son, Kel. Parents loving our trans and nonbinary children for all of who they are is an important message. Always, but especially right now.”

“I want transgender and nonbinary students, faculty, staff, and alumnx to know that they are a vital and vibrant part of the University of Michigan community,” said U-M President Santa J. Ono. “You are welcome and loved here. Your mental health and wellbeing matter. We want you to be fully engaged, and we want you to thrive in all aspects of university life.” 

In honor of the Willians’ gift and Trans Awareness Month, the University of Michigan is calling on alumnx, friends, and supporters to join us from November 6-30 in making the Trans Belonging Fund a resounding success. Support will have a direct and lasting impact on our ability to support transgender and nonbinary students and to build a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable campus environment.

To make a contribution or to learn more about the Trans Belonging Fund, please visit our crowdfunding page.


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