Seth Owen (SFS ’22) has raised over $30,000 for his scholarship fund toward financial assistance for LGBTQ high school students after it officially launched Feb. 25.
Owen was able to found the Unbroken Horizons Scholarship Fund following a $25,000 donation from Ellen DeGeneres and Cheerios. The fund will provide five LGBTQ students with $2,500 in its inaugural year and has already raised $30,840 of its $37,500 goal since it was first posted on gofundme.com.
Owen, who identifies as gay, rose to national attention after his high school biology teacher started a campaign to pay for his college tuition when he left home because of tensions with his parents regarding his sexual orientation, jeopardizing his ability to attend Georgetown. His teacher raised $140,000 through the GoFundMe campaign before Georgetown University adjusted Owen’s financial aid package to fully cover his tuition.
Though the effort to develop the fund is still ongoing, Unbroken Horizons has already received attention for its achievements. Owen and Kaylee Petik, Unbroken Horizons senior vice president of communication and marketing, were recognized at the Equality Florida Greater Jacksonville Gala with the Voice for Equality Award in honor of their activism supporting educational opportunities of LGBTQ high school students.
Many other LGBTQ students face difficulties affording higher education, according to Owen.
“Whereas I had my educators that I could lean on and ask for support, we understand that it’s not always that easy for people to trust their educators and the faculty at their school,” Owen said.
Owen’s work with the scholarship stems from his own difficulties affording his Georgetown education, according to the GoFundMe page. However, the scholarship is aimed toward LGBTQ students of color whose stories may not galvanize the same level of public action, Owen wrote.
“After realizing that I would not have received the same support from the community if it weren’t for my perceived race, I knew I needed to speak up and do something, thus Unbroken Horizons was born,” Owen wrote.
LGBTQ communities of color suffer from additional discrimination and marginalization, which is why the scholarship is geared toward LGBTQ students of color, according to Jacob Imber (COL ’22), communications director for Unbroken Horizons.
“Unbroken Horizons tries to focus on the fact that, as lucky as Seth was to have the support and help that he did in his situation, students who aren’t white or who come from other marginalized communities typically don’t have that sort of luck,” Imber said.
According to The Atlantic, around half of LGBTQ students of color reported verbal harassment because of their racial or LGBTQ identity, and another study found that less than half of queer students of color reported harassment or bullying they experience in school to an educator. Though LGBTQ youth make up around 5 percent of the youth population, LGBTQ youth make up nearly 40 percent of the youth homeless population.
Owen wanted students and members of the Georgetown community to serve on the board of directors for Unbroken Horizons, he said.
“I think that it’s really important that we have students on our board of directors,” Owen said. “We have to keep the students’ perspective in mind.”
In addition to educators and administrators who serve on the board of directors, three undergraduate Georgetown students also joined Owen in his venture. Emma Chuck (COL ’21), Matthew Mita (COL ’21) and Jay Thomas (COL ’22) also serve on the board of directors of Unbroken Horizons.
In addition to expanding educational opportunities available to LGBTQ high school students, the fund also provides a unique leadership experience for the undergraduates who serve on the board, Thomas said.
“I’ve never been on the board of anything or in a leadership role in this way,” Thomas said. “I’m still learning how to speak out and be comfortable in that space.”
Despite difficulties getting used to the responsibility, both Owen and Thomas credit the Unbroken Horizons team for helping ease the transition into their new leadership roles.
“They’ve coached me along and helped me assume those leadership positions,” Owen said. “So it’s been a pretty smooth ride so far.”
Unbroken Horizons is currently made up of 30 students, but the organization is aiming to expand its staff and influence to students across the country, according to Owen.
The beginning weeks after launching the scholarship already show good signs for the fund’s potential, according to Thomas.
“I think we’ll be seeing a lot of growth with our foundation,” Thomas said.
The fundraising campaign’s success is critical to the scholarship’s sustainability, according to Owen.
“I really hope that our new GoFundMe campaign for the foundation specifically takes off so we’re able to award additional scholarships,” he said.