Finding acceptance, community, and authenticity as a young adult out on your own for the first time is often a challenge. Led by Ariel Torres, Mel Kitchen, and Scott Burden, alongside a team of undergraduate and graduate student staff, Lehigh’s Pride Center is known across campus as a safe, welcoming space for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A room in the Pride Center, furnished with colorful, inviting decor, Pride flags, and comfortable seating.

People Focused
The center’s mission is not necessarily LGBTQIA+ focused; it’s people focused. While typically support is given to the queer community and those navigating challenges and varying degrees of distress related to their coming out journeys, aid is available to all. As explained by Torres, funding for the Pride Center serves the entire student community, helping students’ with need-based support in the face of personal challenges.

“The fund saves lives and allows students to be retained and graduate. You can't be successful if you have to overcome these additional barriers,” says Torres. Some areas that are commonly supported are rent, finances after the loss of a job, transportation for gender-affirming care, and costs associated with legal name changes.

Pride Beyond the Center
Torres also publicizes the success of the center’s events, which break down walls and bring the community together in the spirit of authenticity and acceptance. All Pride Center events and support spaces allow a safe place for people of all sexualities and gender identities on campus to find a home. The Pride Center team coordinates speakers for events, plans campus events such as Pride-a-palooza (typically held during Lehigh’s Pride Month in April), and supports student-led initiatives such as this spring’s Pride softball game.

Two softball players, holding pride flags behind text reading

Rory Dudley ’25 and Abbey Tabaka '26 approached the Pride Center and the Center for Gender Equity with their idea for the Pride softball game and were grateful for the support offered to make their vision a reality. “They are so good at communicating and working with you — it takes a lot of the burden off,” says Dudley, who encourages others to utilize the Pride Center to help launch and promote other pride events. “Connecting with them is the best way to go.”

Pride Beyond Lehigh
Torres and Burden also believe strongly in the experiences of representation that they offer students. The biggest event of the year, the Creating Change Conference, is offered to senior students and has been hosted in a different city each year, including San Francisco and New Orleans. The next conference is planned for January 22–26, 2025, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Creating Change declares itself as the nation’s foremost political, leadership, and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ+ movement. “It allows attendees to see queer professionals in one space. Representation and possibility in practice inspires students right before they move into that world,” says Burden. “It inspires them to make change beyond Lehigh.”

Four people stand in front of iconic San Francisco street with Victorian-style houses, smiling while one makes peace signs with his hands..
From left to right: Kili Jackson, Daniel Brody, Ivery Marquez, and Ariel Torres, Associate Director of the Pride Center, visit San Francisco for the Creating Change Conference in 2023.

Ivery Marquez ’23, an admissions counselor at Pepperdine University, attended the 2023 conference in San Francisco. “Creating Change was an amazing opportunity to bond and network with my community. From working professionals to college leaders, I have so many fond memories of the connections I made and was so thankful to be given the experience.”

Marquez remembers valuable sessions with impressive leaders and professionals from the queer community who were successful in areas like social justice and financial literacy. There were professional networking opportunities and educational programs and opportunities to explore the city of San Francisco. But for Marquez, the most impactful experiences came from the more personal sessions meant for self discovery.

“It was an opportunity to become closer to my peers and meet student leaders from other universities and queer leaders. There was this one session for the conference goers to reflect on their experience, and I wasn't expecting to walk into a vulnerable session. In that experience I reflected on my time at Lehigh and being so appreciative of the Pride Center.”

She also reflected on her journey as a queer person. She shares, “My whole family doesn't know I'm queer. It felt affirming to know I felt like myself in that space. It was an opportunity to connect with aspects of myself. I'm really grateful that they had that program and those moments where I could have those self reflections. Having those moments to pause and reflect on the people who are there for you to support you and your ups and downs — especially for queer students who might not feel that support — they are able to feel that support.

Student sits at the Pride Center wearing sorority sash with a smile.
“Creating Change helps our community feel seen, heard, and connected. I hope that more queer Lehigh students are able to experience this in the future.” — Ivery Marquez ’23 at the 2023 Creating Change Conference in San Francisco.

The Impact Is Real
Marquez, a Chicago native, came to Lehigh through the Chicago Scholars program. “It offered many resources for low-income college access. I learned about colleges, like Lehigh, that I wouldn't have known about without that program. Lehigh offered the best opportunities and financial aid. I was grateful for that opportunity.”

When she arrived, Marquez began making connections on campus but was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She remembers this period as a time of personal reflection, and she discovered the Pride Center through some friends who were involved. “I was still thinking about my identity and who I was at the time. I came out at the end of sophomore year going into junior year.”

She took on a work study at the Pride Center in her senior year. “When I got involved, I realized how much I needed to be involved for myself. It was not as much that the community needed me. It was a community that I needed.”

She knows that a pride center like Lehigh’s is not something all students are able to benefit from across the country. “It was amazing to feel empowered within my community. I've felt comfortable opening myself up to new people and new opportunities. Being open about myself and who I am, I was able to find connections with other queer people in my career that I wouldn't have found if I hadn't revealed that part of myself.”

Even for those students who are not queer or active allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, Marquez encourages more people to discover the Pride Center. "I would love it if more students knew about what was happening there. There is something for everyone: smaller events and big events. There is a physical space, couches, free snacks, coffee, water … If students are looking for a space, I hope they find that the Pride Center is available to them."

But most of all, Marquez can’t say enough about the people at Lehigh’s Pride Center.

“If you are ever lucky enough to interact with Scott [Burden], Mel [Kitchen], or Ariel [Torres], your life will change. Those three people are so valuable to the queer community and the Lehigh community overall. If there is any opportunity for any student staff or faculty to work with them, it will be such a positive experience,” beams Marquez. “They are truly student advocates and inspired in their work. They are great influences in my life, and I am so lucky to have worked with them and to be loved by them, and I want more people to experience that.”

The Pride Center not only connects and empowers students. It assists them so they can focus on their academic goals. Support the Pride Center’s LGBTQIA+ Community Fund to help students secure housing, food, and more.

A promotional flyer for the Lehigh University Pride center resting on colorful silicone bracelets

Keeping LGBTQIA+ and Allied Alums Connected

Whether you identify as LGBTQIA+ or are an ally, the Lehigh Alumni Pride Association (LAPA) is a great way to foster an inclusive Lehigh community and help students find their way on campus. 

Student smiles while standing on a stage with an award for LAPAs Change Agent honor.

In This Image: Ivery Marquez ’23 received the 2023 Lehigh Alumni Pride Association Change Agent Award at the Pride Center's Annual Graduation and Awards Ceremony, Take Pride.

A large display of balloons on a green lawn spell out "Pride" at an outdoor event.

In This Image: The Pride Center is a fantastic partner in coordinating and participating inclusive events. Shown: Chelsea Pratt (former director, Pride Center) and Scott Burden (current director, Pride Center) at the Pride in the Park event in 2017.

Two Pride Center staff stand at under purple tent with pride flags hanging above them.

In This Image: Mel Kitchen (left, coordinator of the Pride Center) and Scott Burden (right, director of the Pride Center) at Lehigh Valley Pride.

Three students pose for a selfie with one in the middle making a kiss face and holding up peace signs with his hands.

In This Image: From front to back: Ivery Marquez ’23 (she/they), Daniel Brody ’22 (he/him), and Kili Jackson ’23 (they/them) attended the 2023 Creating Change Conference in San Francisco, California.

Six students stand at a Pride event on campus with Pride flags hung behind them.

In This Image: Students enjoy lunch and community building at the Pride Center's annual Big Queer Lunch event in the Fall of 2023.