They first met at a protest rally in Charleston in 2017. Linda Ketner and Tanner Crunelle ’20, two passionate activists fighting for marginalized populations, want to create a more embracing, accepting environment for the LGBTQ+ community at the College of Charleston.
An adjunct professor of sociology at the College from 1988 to 1991, Ketner created the Ketner Emerging Leaders Scholarship in 1990 as a way to encourage social justice and activism amongst students. At least twice a year, she gets together with her entire cohort of students and then regularly meets with them individually.
“I’m really hopeful about this generation,” says Ketner. “As an old baby boomer activist, they remind me of my generation — aware, plugged in and willing to take stands. All the students I have worked with over the years are local activists. They are all making a difference in their communities, something that pleases me greatly.”
A recipient of the Ketner Emerging Leaders Scholarship, Crunelle benefitted from Ketner’s meetings. “Linda and I have a very special bond,” he says. “She’s one of my biggest role models. Her confidence, courage, nimbleness — I revere all of this in her.”
“For students like Tanner, Linda is inspiring not only because of her considerable scholarship support, but because of her vision,” says Kris De Welde, director of women’s and gender studies. “Linda expects recipients to engage in transformative advocacy and activism through meaningful initiatives. Her direct mentoring provides opportunities for students who might not otherwise have the time, resources or encouragement to pursue social change together with other student scholars who are equally motivated to subvert unequal systems of oppression. She certainly helped shape and guide Tanner’s activism at CofC.”
With his unwavering drive and Ketner’s guidance, Crunelle became the most significant student voice for LGBTQ+ equality in the history of the College of Charleston.
Impressed with the strides the College has made toward becoming a more inclusive community and by the exceptional dedication of CofC faculty and staff to support her and the Ketner Scholars – namely Karen Abrams (ret.), Jill Conway (ret.), Alison Piepmeier (1972–2016), Kris De Welde and Peggy Cieslikowski – Ketner decided to create another scholarship in early 2020. She established the first scholarship for students who contribute to the diversity of the student body through demonstrated leadership in matters of concern to the LGBTQ+ community.
Ketner named the scholarship the Ketner Crunelle LGBTQ+ Endowed Scholarship in recognition of Crunelle’s energy and leadership in changing the landscape of the College.
Ketner knows only too well what it takes to create change. When she came out as lesbian, she didn’t just come out, she brought together a group that founded the first LGBTQ+ social justice organization in South Carolina — the Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA).
“I wanted to put a face to the LGBTQ+ community in the city and the state,” explains Ketner. “I also wanted to create dialogue and awareness in order to eliminate prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In that spirit, in 2002, Ketner and the AFFA board gathered LBGTQ+ people from all over South Carolina to form South Carolina Equality (SCE), a statewide political organization that coordinates the fight for LGBTQ+ equality across the state.
Crunelle, who identifies as gay and genderqueer, became an on-campus activist not by choice.
“After I was verbally assaulted in a residence hall my first year, it became clear there was a lot of work to do,” he says.
Fortunately – as a recipient of the Brady and Angela Quirk-Garven Endowed Alumni Scholarship and the Marilyn Shiely Coste Memorial Scholarship, in addition to being a Ketner Scholar – Crunelle had the resources to be an activist, and he set about making change at CofC.
“The thing that always excites me about belonging to the LGBTQ+ community is the complexity that springs from our many identities,” says Crunelle. “With so much complexity, it’s difficult to even define us as a group.”
To honor the complexity, Crunelle helped form the Intersectional Cougar Action Network (I-CAN) in 2018 to serve as a coalition for all student minority groups. In addition, his many accomplishments include creating the Out Front student, faculty and staff coalition in 2019 to support LGBTQ+ life on the campus and the Sturcken Oratorical in 2018, a competition where students diagnose and propose solutions to systemic, institutional oppression.
“CofC might be the most accepting and embracive university in South Carolina,” says the magna cum laude graduate. “I can only discern that this is a result of collective efforts to better the campus led by minoritized students.”
“Tanner’s impact on the College is indelible and multidimensional,” says De Welde. “His fierce and sustained critiques of all manifestations of injustice ranging from individual interactions to institutional policies have resulted in profoundly transformational outcomes. Tanner has compelled me personally to grow and be challenged in ways that make me a better person, scholar and activist.”
The Ketner Crunelle LGBTQ+ Endowed Scholarship is slated to have its first recipient in the 2021–22 academic year. The scholarship includes mentorship from De Welde and Ketner.
“We’ve estimated that one in five students at the College identifies as LGBTQ+, and yet dedicated, intentional resources and support for this large number of students are lacking,” says De Welde. “The Ketner Crunelle Endowed Scholarship, mindful of this gap, offers a creative and responsive strategy to support students financially who are developing leaders in the areas of LGBTQ+ equity, equality and dignity.”
Crunelle couldn’t agree more. “I grew up here; Charleston is my home. This scholarship gives me such hope for my community and the people who will devise ways of responding to tomorrow’s crises.”
Photo by Mike Ledford