Erik Ludwig (1976-2015) graduated from Duke in 1998, and his legacy continues to live on at the university, through a new fund in his honor supporting the work of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD).
Erik Ludwig came to Duke in 1994, majoring in history. Ludwig was also a committed activist, and during his time at Duke, advocated for fair pay for all employees and other employee rights. "He had a very strong sense of things that were fair and just," said Erik's mother, Ellen Ludwig.
Erik graduated from Duke in 1998 and went on to receive his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. As a labor and employment attorney in New York, he continued to fight discrimination and advocate for workers' rights. He also spent years managing ballot measure campaigns to protect gay rights laws across the country, trained hundreds of gay rights activists to run similar campaigns, and trained political candidates to run for office.
Ludwig, who was gay, always said he had wished there had been more support for GLBT students during his time at Duke. Ludwig attended Duke in the 90s, and while the University Center for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Life--the predecessor of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity--had been established in fall of 1994, the center lacked full- or part-time staff, and other resources and supports were slim. "When he was 18 and at Duke, he did not feel there was much in the way of support for students," said Erik's father, Gil Ludwig.
Erik died in 2015 at the age of 39. After his death, Erik's parents knew they wanted to give back to his alma mater in a way that would continue his legacy of social justice, and support the spaces and conversations that were just not as common during their son's time at Duke, they said.
In 2018, the Ludwigs established the Erik K. Ludwig Fund to support the work of the CSGD, which strives to achieve an inclusive campus climate for students, staff, faculty and alumni with marginalized sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. The Ludwigs' hope is that their gift will support the programs, spaces and conversations they wish had happened more often during their son's time at Duke.
"Our gift was to the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity," said Ellen. "We feel this leadership group will inspire others to be involved and make a difference."
The Queer and Trans Leadership Series (QTLS) launched this academic year, the first program made possible with the support of the Erik K. Ludwig Fund. "The QTLS is a year-long series of events hosted on Duke's campus throughout the year," said Nick Antonicci, director of the CSGD. "The program is designed to highlight queer and trans leadership, and to engage students in a developmental and reflective learning experience where they will be able to foster their own leadership growth through the lens of their Queer and Trans identities in conjunction with their other social identities."
"We specifically wanted to support the Queer and Trans Leadership Series," said Ellen, "knowing how it will impact students, and the spaces and the conversations it will create." And the program is already making a difference. Janelle Taylor T'19 attended every session in the series this past year. "The Queer and Trans Leadership Series is an invaluable opportunity to see and hear and speak to people like me who have succeeded despite what society has told us success is," said Taylor. Taylor graduated this spring as a sociology/gender, sexuality and feminist studies major, and also served as a student programming assistant in the CSGD.
"Being able to create these spaces and these opportunities for discussion is really invaluable," said Antonicci. "The Ludwigs' generous gift has helped make this possible."
"Part of what is really exciting," said Ellen, "is that Erik's legacy will continue to be shared with students at events like these."