By Jackie Wise
When Chad Goldman (Knoxville ’93) arrived on the UT Knoxville campus, he felt like the world had opened up for him. He had felt stifled in what he referred to as a homogeneous environment in high school and was ready to find a place he could thrive.
Goldman refers to himself as a joiner in that he joined everything. He took his schoolwork seriously and dove deep into all UT Knoxville had to offer. At the same time, underneath that spirited enthusiasm, was a young man coming to terms with his sexuality.
“This was before the internet, this was before anything,” he says. “We had the phone hanging on the wall in North Carrick—that was our communication device. I didn’t have any resources; I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I felt like the only gay person on Earth, or in Knoxville at least.”
The Pride Center didn’t exist on campus at that time, but Goldman knows it would have offered fellowship and resources to help him figure things out with less turbulence.
“It’s (Pride Center) not a club; it’s a vital function of the university. It is a guidance and resource center for students going through a unique experience,” he says.
Students arriving on campus are coming from a variety of environments, cultures and backgrounds. Goldman saw that as a student, and it excited him to live in a diverse world. But he also knows, as those students come to Knoxville for an education, many also are coming from a deficit of acceptance and are looking for answers. Finding those answers and acceptance is a major factor to whether a student stays in school.
“All students deserve a chance to fit in and feel like they belong,” he says.
Two decades after graduation, Goldman received an email from the university and made the decision to make a donation. From there, he got involved with the UT Knoxville College of Arts and Sciences and began funding an undergraduate travel-abroad scholarship. As a student, Goldman spent a year in Argentina through the study-abroad program in what he says was a transformational and eye-opening experience.
His involvement and philanthropic efforts with the university grew, and he was challenged with a goal of building a $3 million endowment that would fund the Pride Center in perpetuity. Since that time, he has held fundraisers in Nashville; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and Knoxville, raising well over $500,000.
Goldman is passionate about the work being done each day at the Pride Center and the resource it provides for the UT Knoxville students. Knowing what the Pride Center would have meant for him as a student and what it will mean for future students continues to push him in fundraising efforts.
“I might have been walking through the dark, but I did have some light coming from people in front of me that were bearing the torch, and now it’s my time to pick it up and shine the way for the other students coming in,” he says.