As a young gay man estranged from his family, Dustin Hall felt lonely, felt sad and felt scared that he’d not have enough money to finish college.
But at Spalding University, Hall also felt supported, accepted and loved.
“I like to say that Spalding really saved my life,” he said.
The 2013 Spalding graduate and former Student Government Association president credits the faculty and staff at Spalding for creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students and supporting him as he sought to gain status as financially independent, which helped him qualify for more school loans and aid for his final years of college.
Hall found success and is now a up-and-coming human resources professional in Chicago.
However, in early 2011, Hall, who said he’d had a difficult relationship with his family for years because he was gay, had a falling out with his parents that left him depressed and struggling to make ends meet. He said he had even written in his journal “some things about killing myself.”
He stayed on a friend’s couch, ate peanut butter sandwiches almost exclusively and had to catch a 5 a.m. bus to campus every day. It was a hard, emotional time, and it could have led to him falling behind at school.
But along the way, he said, he had frequent meetings with financial aid staff, Dean of Students Rick Hudson and Accessibility Services Director Kelly Cogar. He called them “wonderful advocates” who boosted his morale and encouraged him to feel proud, get involved and become a campus leader.
“If it wasn’t for Spalding, wasn’t for Kelly and Dean Hudson and student government and other things keeping me alive, keeping me fresh and going, I don’t know if I’d have made it,” Hall said.
He said that Dr. Allison From-Tapp, who directs the counseling center, became a confidant. He was conflicted with personal stress, but Hall said that he left sessions with her “feeling so empowered.”
“I was in the land of the dead,” he said. “My soul was just crushed. But she brought me back to the land of the living. The whole school did.”
Hall said his professors in the School of Liberal Studies supported him through his toughest times but were also stern in keeping him on track academically and demanding he make it to class every day and work hard on his assignments.
Hall found his stride at Spalding, earning an interdisciplinary social sciences degree that he says has been a great resource in his professional life.
He served three years as SGA president and founded the Unanimity club on campus for LGBTQ students and allies that still exists today, now called the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) organization.
“He was so driven,” Hudson said. “He was like a force. We’re still doing many of the things he started. His legacy lives on at Spalding.”
Hall called the way Spalding faculty and staff supported him during his most difficult times “the most exemplary form of Christian compassion and love – to be a stranger and be treated with such hospitality and compassion.”
With the nation now celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month in June, Hall said he would recommend Spalding for LGBTQ students looking for a college.
“My statement to them would be, ‘You would find a home at Spalding and you would be cherished, because that was my experience,'” Hall said.
After thriving at Spalding, Hall is now thriving in the professional world.
Having also earned a master’s from Loyola University Chicago’s business school, he is a human resources manager for the American Marketing Association in Chicago. He said his liberal studies training from Spalding has been a key to his success. Having an understanding of U.S. history, anthropology and religious studies has given him perspective on diversity and inclusion and a sense of how people think, which helps him in hiring and interviewing.
On his occasional visits back to Louisville, he said he always makes sure to stop by Spalding’s campus. He always goes by the Mansion and sits on the couch where he used to take early-morning naps before class. During some of his difficult personal times, those naps were a respite, and the couch reminds him of how he felt comfortable and welcome on campus.
“I love that school more than anything,” he said. “It is truly a Christian school in that it took me in and loved me and helped me develop.”