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Collage of Scholars in Residence
Collage of Scholars in Residence

Penn LGBT Center’s Scholars-in-Residence Program returns, welcomes three local voices

The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn LGBT Center’s Scholars-in-Residence Program is returning for 2024 and will welcome three new LGBTQ+ scholars with diverse backgrounds, all from the Philadelphia area. This year’s program includes a TedTalk by each of the scholars, which will take place during the University of Pennsylvania’s QPenn week March 22-29. This year’s scholars include a cohort of three local activists and entrepreneurs: TS Hawkins, Kyle Cuffie-Scott and Dr. Danna Bodenheimer.

The program is a first-of-its kind initiative that amplifies queer and trans voices, integrating scholars from varying lines of work into Penn’s classrooms. One of the main objectives of this program is to increase students’ awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and encourage social change.

In the summer of 2022, the Penn LGBT Center received an anonymous endowment of $2 million meant to advance LGBTQ+ scholarship and awareness of the queer and trans community. The Center used this money to launch the Scholars-in-Residence program in 2023. In that first year, the Penn LGBT Center hosted ALOK, a renowned gender-nonconforming author, comedian and public speaker. This year, the focus will be on scholars from the Philadelphia area to connect students with LGBTQ+ professionals who represent the local community.


TS Hawkins

Hawkins is an international, award-winning poet, performance artist, playwright and trauma-informed educator. They have been recognized by the Barrymore Awards; featured in publications such as WHYY, NPR and the Chicago Tribune; and are a recipient of both the Victory Foundation Theatre Education Award and a Best of Philly Award. Their written works include “Seeking Silence,” “sweet bread peaches” (formerly ”Cartons of Ultrasounds”), “Too Late to Apologize,” “In Their Silence” (formerly “They’ll Neglect to Tell You”) and others.

“What I love and what I’m intrigued by [about the Scholars-in-Residence program] is, yes, they gave us parameters, but the process is very collaborative and very open,” Hawkins said.

“They want you at the table doing what you do, and a lot of times in a residency, they want your work, but they still want you to follow a specific framework to get that process and product done,” they added. “This has been a very different and engaging experience, which is exciting.”

Hawkins also spoke to the importance of poetry and education, which they will be applying to their TedTalk, “Purpose, Poetry, and Power: Tools for Thriving in a Shifting Society.” The talk will address how one finds peace in the present climate, particularly in the context of social media. Hawkins will also be turning their talk into a master class in the program.

Hawkins also shared their philosophy, explaining, “If you have access to language and are able to paint the world with your words, that’s poetry.”

Kyle Cuffie-Scott

Cuffie-Scott has appeared on “Good Morning America” and has made birthday cakes for celebrities such as Janet Jackson. As the founder and co-owner of Darnel’s Cakes LLC — which will be celebrating its fourth year at its Old City location in May — Cuffie-Scott explained that he began the bakery to honor his cousin Darnel, who passed away due to AIDS complications. Although the business began as a fundraiser to spread awareness, it blossomed into a full brick-and-mortar shop, which has continued Cuffie-Scott’s activist work. 

Cuffie-Scott’s business raises awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and contributes to activism and advocacy by collaborating with national and local organizations that work to combat both the virus itself and the pervasive stigmas around those with the disease. 

Of his activism, Cuffie-Scott explained tha Darnel’s Cakes focuses on, “spreading the word about getting tested, finding ways to get tests in people’s hands so it’s not so taboo or scary, and helping to de-stigmatize HIV and AIDS a little bit more.” 

Cuffie-Scott explained that he is most excited about the opportunity “to help change some young lives and get them on the right track of getting tested early, letting their friends know and staying on top of their sexual health.”

Danna Bodenheimer

Dr. Danna Bodenheimer

Bodenheimer, who could not be reached for comment, is the founder and director of Walnut Psychotherapy Center, a prominent therapy practice in Philadelphia serving the LGBTQ+ community. Bodenheimer also has more than 15 years of experience in the mental health field, with a particular focus on providing therapeutic care to those in the LGBTQ+ community. For the Scholars-in-Residence program, she will bring the perspective of an experienced instructor and published author who is particularly interested in the effects of dual marginalization.

Responding to community needs

Jake Muscato, one of the Penn LGBT Center’s associate directors, explained that the transition to Philadelphia-based scholars this year was because the Center wanted to give local activists and educators a platform and because of the scholars’ significant contributions to the community. Muscato elaborated that connecting to the community is an essential tenet of the LGBT Center’s goals. 

Muscato also shared that another of the Scholars-in-Residence program’s main goals is to “change hearts and minds, which is the goal of advocacy and scholarship.” 

“It’s often community activists who have told the story of queer and trans communities, so this is the natural connection between this sort of work,” said Eric Anglero, the director of Penn’s LGBT Center. 

Anglero also highlighted that the work of the three scholars in the 2024 program is integral to the current story of the LGBTQ+ community in Philadelphia and the ways that academic spaces talk about gender and sexuality. 

In addition to connecting and empowering queer and trans students, the program is a learning opportunity for students who may not otherwise encounter these topics, organizations or conversations. Anglero also explained that the aim of the program is to truly foster learning, including those working within the Penn LGBT Center. In fact, many facets of the program are driven by the students themselves, as the Center actively seeks their input on what they want out of the program. 

“My hope, my dream is that we are responsive to the community needs and that we are really open to listening, as I think the Center really has done since its foundation,” Anglero said.

“As we face this litany of legislation happening nationally, I think this is one of the ways to highlight how advocacy can happen even in the face of some really terrible legislative maps,” Anglero added.