Alok Vaid-Menon, a renowned gender-nonconforming, transfeminine writer and multimedia artist, will serve as the inaugural Scholar in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center (LGBT Center).
Vaid-Menon performs under the moniker ALOK, and is known for their work in poetry, comedy, and fashion that touches on topics such as gender, race, trauma, and belonging.
Through the Scholar in Residence program, UPenn will bring a diverse group of LGBTQ+ voices to campus. The initiative launched in April and is funded by a $2 million anonymous donation.
“It’s a profound honor to be the inaugural LGBTQ+ Scholar in Residence at [UPenn],” says ALOK. “In the face of escalating malalignment, we see a widening chasm between the reality of LGBTQ+ lives and the misrepresentation of our communities in media and society. As LGBTQ+ scholars and artists, we must continue to debunk anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation while also harnessing the power of LGBTQ+ storytelling to create a more inclusive and magnificent world. I’m looking forward to connecting with UPenn students, faculty, and staff to celebrate the living poetry of our existence in these turbulent times.”
UPenn Scholars in Residence are selected by an advisory board of students with support from faculty and staff. The particular role of visiting scholars depends on their areas of expertise. For example, a well-known LGBTQ+ activist may be on campus for brief events such as lectures or workshops while a queer theory scholar may conduct research and teach a semester-long course.
“The scholars will not only be role models, but they will also highlight UPenn’s commitment to diversity while promoting greater understanding on campus and in the wider community,” says Erin Cross, director of UPenn’s LGBT Center. “ALOK has already been an inspiration to our students from afar, and their impact will be even greater working with young people here on campus.”
During their residency, ALOK will perform, share meals with students, lead workshops, and guest teach in graduate and undergraduate classes.
“I’m really excited to see more South Asian nonbinary academics on campus, especially someone that is unapologetically themselves,” Haydr Dutta, a first-year UPenn student and member of the LGBT Center’s transgender and nonbinary committee, told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “It is really inspiring to see the work they do, and I look forward to welcoming them to UPenn. I’m personally looking forward to the workshops they will be doing with students.”●
This article was published in our June 2023 issue.