Attendees of one of Nebraska’s newest homecoming traditions walked a red carpet into Kauffman Great Hall. Lights illuminated the room’s pillars into a rainbow. Black tablecloths contrasted with brightly colored floral arrangements.
About 150 students attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s second annual Rainbow Ball, which was held the evening of Oct. 4 at Kauffman Hall. They nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, posed for silly pictures in the pride-themed photo booth and danced to music provided by the UNL DJ Club.
The scene was reminiscent of a high school or college formal, and Husker Jake Piccini soaked it all in. As the peer mentor program coordinator with the LGBTQA+ Resource Center and president of Spectrum, he was instrumental in bringing the Rainbow Ball to campus for the first time in 2018. The event gives LGBTQA+ students an opportunity to be themselves while experiencing something many missed out on — going to a school dance.
“A lot of us didn’t have that opportunity to attend dances or proms in high school, either because we weren’t out or because the school wasn’t open and accepting,” Piccini, a senior computer science major, said. “A place that they can come to with their partners or come with their friends and celebrate, even if just for three hours, is a really valuable thing to the community and to building a sense of community.”
Piccini said that he and other students in Spectrum had talked about hosting a Pride Prom or similar event for two years before they finally decided to capitalize on homecoming week in 2018. They enlisted student leaders and volunteers from TRANSform and oSTEM to help put it together.
“The university doesn’t have any kind of homecoming dance, but it’s a big celebration for the university in general,” Piccini said. “This extends that celebration to our (LGBTQA+) community.”
The first Rainbow Ball was well-received by campus, with about 140 students in attendance. It also won the Student Impact Award for Program of the Year from Student Affairs.
“That was a great recognition of all the work we put in to make it happen,” Piccini said. “We also got a really nice note from some of the recent alumni who attended, saying how much they appreciate what we did and the environment we created.”
This year, organizers wanted the event to grow in reach, and invited students from other Nebraska colleges and universities. Special care was taken to make the event as inclusive as possible – from the menu to the ticket price, which is only $5. After paying for the event, any profit is placed in the Pat Tetreault/PFLAG-Lincoln Student Support Fund. The fund gives short-term financial support to students in financial emergency situations.
The event was sponsored by the LGBTQA+ Resource Center and run by student volunteers from Spectrum, oSTEM and TRANSform. Help from on-campus partners, including Selleck Hall Dining Services and the Kauffman Residence Association, offset the cost as well. Even Piccini’s parents and some of their friends volunteered as hosts.
“This isn’t a one-person or small-group effort,” he said. “It is a big team collaboration make this happen, and many campus partners help us out.”
Piccini will become an alumnus in May 2020, and when he comes back for homecoming someday, he hopes he can pop in to the Rainbow Ball.
“We created a new homecoming event and it’s done really well,” he said. “I’d love to see it grow, but I don’t think it needs to grow for it to be a success. It’s still such a valuable and awesome experience for those people that are able to come.”