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Richard Sager ’74 Speaks

In 1988, Richard Sager ’74 created the Sager Fund at Swarthmore, which has served as a vibrant LGBTQ campus resource ever since. (More on Sager's history here.)

"To say it is personally gratifying to see the work that the Sager Committee has done over the years would be an understatement," he says. "I'm incredibly proud to have been able to provide the kernel which has led to so many amazing symposia, lectures, social events and more, and eternally grateful to the students, alumni, faculty and staff who have contributed time, resources, funding and more to these events."

What was your College experience like?

My time at Swarthmore was one of exploration, academically, culturally, and socially. The exception is that there was virtually no LGBTQ presence on campus, so I was unable to explore that part of me.

Two memorable things come to mind:

1. Playing bridge (not terribly well) with the same few friends 3–4 nights a week until the small hours, ordering pizzas and cheese steaks from Morton Pizza at 1 a.m. 

2. Music. I was a member of the small college orchestra, but the fun part was the 5–6 of us who created the Swarthmore marching band, performing antics at half time at the college's football games. (Yes, that was when we had a football team.) Also, once a year, a quartet of us would play Christmas carols under Clothier Tower at midnight just before winter break. Rain, snow or clear, we would have a couple of hundred fellow students singing along in short order.

How did your experience at Swarthmore shape you?

Swarthmore taught me that there are many directions from which to look at a problem. I think I understood that a creative approach, different from the obvious, was often the most effective and satisfying. Doing my first estate plan after my HIV diagnosis in the mid 1980s, I wanted to give to the LGBTQ community, and wanted to do it through an entity with a proven record of shepherding, protecting and growing resources. Swarthmore seemed a natural.

What are some of the most memorable moments over the years related to the Sager Symposium, Series, the dance, etc.?

There are many. With regard to the symposium, some standouts include: Year one, 1989, featured "Revealing the Unspoken," including:

With regard to the dance, anyone who was present will remember and thank the rugby team for being the transformation of a nondescript party into the "Genderfuck Party" simply by dancing in their underwear on the mantle of the former frat house where the party was being held. I'm not sure why that act inspired this to happen, but the next year there was the first of many "drag" themes. That event continued for many years, with few exceptions allowing students to express themselves in an open and nonjudgmental manner.  There are revisionists who insist I disapproved, but that is far from the truth. 

Many students, gay and straight, thanked me for the opportunity to feel so free. Several times I've been told by students that the mere presence of the Sager events had given them the confidence to be themselves, to come out to family and friends, to study topics they had not considered, to be honest. I cannot imagine anything more gratifying than hearing words like these.

What advice do you have for LGBTQ students and alumni looking to make a positive difference in the world?

Don't sit idly by. Use your talents. Swarthmore students and alums are uniquely qualified to see problems and unique ways to address them. Change yourself and you will help change the world.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to support Swarthmore's LGBTQ community both on campus and out in the world?

Give time, give money. If at Swarthmore, you can designate donations to Sager Fund activities. Just saying! And wherever you are, there are organizations doing such important work and those will value your time as well as you donations.

How would you like your contributions to the ongoing Swarthmore story to be remembered?

The great thing about what I have given to Swarthmore is that it has the flexibility to change to meet current needs. So the greatest way for my contributions to be remembered is that they are not historical but current, being utilized to address whatever issues are pressing. I'm grateful for Swarthmore, and honored to be able to play a role in helping students to address some important issues. I look forward to being a part of the Swarthmore landscape for many years!