KANSAS CITY — Some gay students who face financial trouble, often because of rejection from their families, are getting help from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The university offers the PRIDE Empowerment Scholarship to gay students who are struggling to pay their bills, as well as straight students who lose money because of their support for their gay counterparts.
One of this year's three recipients, Caleb-Michael Files, 21, said he probably wouldn't have returned to school this year if he hadn't been awarded $2,000 for each semester, The Kansas City Star reported. The amount of the scholarships varies depending on the student's circumstances.
University officials have awarded eight scholarships since creating the program four years ago, when they noticed gay students often struggled with acceptance.
"This year was the greatest need we've seen," says Kristi Ryujin, the university's assistant vice chancellor for diversity, access and equity. "We have a long way to go still."
Files, a political science and communication studies major, said he became a ward of the court when he and his twin sister turned 2 and then lived with cousins for several years. He attended 21 schools before entering seventh grade, finally graduating from high school in Knob Noster.
"Gay students, especially, have issues with coming out and support," Files said. "My parents aren't in the picture. My guardians aren't in the picture."
He was managing to support himself until late 2011, when he lost his job as a resident adviser for LGBT and women's issues in the university residence halls. He also had no place to live and said he "barely" hung on through the rest of the school year.
He supplements the scholarship money with a job as a graphic designer in a campus office, and until recently he was an editor at the student newspaper.
"I would not be doing as well academically as I am this semester" without the scholarship, said Files, who estimated he would be working 60 to 80 hours a week to pay his bills.
Files said the two other recipients this year were both cut off by their families. One of them was living in a "camp space," Ryujin said.
Ryujin's office also keeps tabs on the students and connects them with other campus resources, such as the university's counseling center. Missouri-Kansas City also has a Pride Alliance student group and a related resources center.
"It's really a scooping up and holding of the students, making sure they have the financial and personal support mechanisms they need to be successful," she said.