Show Some Lavender Love

Alumnus Mike Zornjack ('11, '12M) at Pride Parade

SUMMARY: Meet the Lavender Chapter, one of the JMU Alumni Association’s newest alumni chapters that supports the LGBTQ+ community and seeks to help students and alumni on and off campus.

By: Brittany Bell, student writing assistant, Office of Alumni Relations

The JMU Alumni Association has many affinity chapters that bring together alumni with similar interests, hobbies or experiences. In June, the association added a new affinity chapter to the roster: The Lavender Chapter 

The Lavender Chapter is for current and fellow Dukes who identify as LGBTQ+ or are allies of the community. The chapter hopes to connect students and alumni, raise awareness, and show support for the community. Members of the newly christened chapter selected the name “Lavender” based on JMU’s Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Lavender Lounge, which is a space for JMU students to hang out on campus and serves as a safe and comfortable expression of LGBTQ+ identities.

Interim President of the Lavender Chapter, Mike Zornjak (’11, ’12M), began working with the JMU Alumni Association a year ago to create the chapter. As previous president of the MetroDukes alumni chapter located in the Metro-D.C. area, Zornjak had the experience and connections needed to spearhead the process.

Lavender_chapter_logo“I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet other JMU LGBTQ+ alumni throughout the United States to kind of congregate and join together,” Zornjak said.

A member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, Zornjak was motivated to start the chapter after noticing that other universities had an LGBTQ+ alumni chapter but not JMU. He hopes the Lavender Chapter can expand SOGIE’s initiative. 

“On a personal level, I know it’s stressful coming out to friends and family,” Zornjak said. “I know they have resources like SOGIE on campus where students can go, but the Lavender Chapter will be an extension of that within the alumni base in case there’s anybody, any alumni out there, that are struggling with identity and coming to terms with their sexuality.”

The Lavender Chapter’s biggest focuses right now as it continues to develop are connecting with other alumni and helping out the LGBTQ+ community to the best of its ability. Zornjak’s goals include hosting events on campus, when on-campus events resume, to raise awareness and support for the community; helping SOGIE with their on-campus events; and even going out and finding community service projects like the Human Rights Campaign for alumni to get involved with.

According to Jennifer Iwerks, assistant director of SOGIE, the Lavender Chapter has already become a great resource for SOGIE and current students. The chapter and SOGIE are starting to collaborate on student events. For Homecoming this year, they will have an event called “Learn with the Lavenders,” which involves a virtual panel where students can learn about the various LGBTQ+ programs on campus. 

“A collaboration between SOGIE and the Lavender Chapter will be beneficial to everyone involved,” Iwerks said. “Connecting with current students and seeing how LGBTQ+ support on campus has grown will help alum see the changes JMU is making and continue to feel a part of the JMU family. 

Once the chapter picks up momentum, Zornjak plans to expand these chapter opportunities and work on creating a mentorship program that connects alumni and students. The hope is to give support to LGBTQ+ students, whether it’s with their identity or their career aspirations, by having alumni share their experiences with them.

Brent Lewis, associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, is one of the many people collaborating with the Lavender Chapter. He agrees that a potential mentorship program is a great opportunity to connect the JMU LGBTQ+ community, past and present. “I think that’s a really impactful idea because to me, as much support and engagement and opportunity that we can provide students is the best strategy.”

Lewis continues, “It gives a net for those who are current students to think, ‘okay, when I graduate, I’m not just leaving this safety net, this safety space that I created at JMU. There’s another arm to this, I can now graduate and join the Lavender Chapter and still stay connected to my queer experiences at JMU.”

Depending on how well the mentorship program goes, Zornjak would also like to connect recent JMU alumni and older alumni together through the program. He hopes members of the chapter can their share experiences with each other and create stronger bonds.

Since its creation, the Lavender Chapter has received a lot of positive feedback. According to Zornjak, a Facebook page dedicated to JMU LGBTQ+ alumni got in touch with him shortly after the announcement of chapter’s formation and offered their support. Many of its members are excited to see an official organization come to light.

“There were a bunch of older alumni reaching out to me saying how enthusiastic they were for it and that if there was anything I needed they would be more than willing to help.” Zornjak said. “The influx of people reaching out within the few days we made the announcement, it was amazing.”

As of now, the next step for the chapter is finding board members to help lead the organization. Anyone interested in a leadership role can apply for a position. Zornjak and the JMU Alumni Association are working to find dedicated alumni to help get things up and running. Once the foundations have been set, Zornjak is confident the Lavender Chapter will be ready to make an impact with the LGBTQ+ community on and off campus.

“I’m excited to see what’s going to happen over the next few months when we put everything together,” Zornjak said.

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Published: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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