Kevin Sanborn's Legacy Lives On

July 20, 2016

Campus leader. Curious student. Activist. Celebrator extraordinaire. Generous friend. These are just a few of the phrases friends use to describe the late Kevin Sanborn ’87.

Sanborn, originally of Manchester, New Hampshire, was an active member of the Wesleyan community during his four years in Middletown, serving as a resident advisor, head resident of West College, and as a member of several gay rights organizations and the Mystical Seven. In 1987, Wesleyan recognized Sanborn’s commitment to community by presenting him with the Heideman Award, an honor given annually to an undergraduate who has helped others in the Wesleyan community.

Sarah Williams ’88 (pictured with Sanborn, above and below) remembers with fondness Sanborn’s energy, passion, and positive outlook on life. “Kevin was just an amazing person. He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and when he got to Wesleyan he could finally be himself: the most magnetic, dynamic, engaging person you ever met,” says Williams.

In a 1992 profile of Sanborn for Wesleyan magazine, Sanborn’s advisor, then adjunct professor and now chair of the Sociology Department Mary Ann Clawson, described him as “vibrant.” “Everyone will tell you how funny he was in class, how witty, but he was also very insightful and bright—I almost always learned something from the papers he wrote,” said Clawson. “Kevin was intensely committed intellectually and politically, and he was a perfectionist, never satisfied with his own work. He could have been and done whatever he wanted."

After graduation, Sanborn taught English in Spain before moving to New York City, where he took restaurants jobs to make ends meet while working with assault victims through the Victim Services Agency (now Safe Horizon) and helping children with HIV and AIDS as a hospital volunteer at Kings County Hospital.  In late spring 1991, Sanborn was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a complication resulting from the HIV virus. He died less than two months later, just one week short of his twenty-fifth birthday.

AdzenyahIn 2002, Jeremy Mindich ‘87 and Sarah Williams, joined by Kevin’s friends and classmates, helped establish the Kevin Sanborn ’87 Internship, an endowed fund that is part of the Wesleyan Summer Experience Grant Program. Grants are awarded each year to several Wesleyan students interested in pursuing summer learning opportunities focused on social change. “Kevin died before he had the chance to make his interest in social issues a part of his professional work,” says Mindich. “The internship program provides that opportunity to Wesleyan students interested in preparing for a life of purpose.”

Over the years, Sanborn grant recipients have worked worldwide on a wide range of social issues in a wide variety of settings, from a school in Thailand to a women’s health center in Massachusetts to a shelter for abused and trafficked women in Italy to a grassroots welfare-reform organization in New York City. “Our intention in supporting this internship program was to give students, regardless of financial need, the opportunity to go out into the world, learn about other people and other cultures, and to find ways to change the world for the better,” says Mindich. “It is wonderful to consider all the positive things Wesleyan students are doing in Kevin’s name.”  In recent years, other Wesleyan alums who also loved Kevin have made additional gifts to the fund, allowing more students to undertake exciting summer projects.

Kevin Sanborn made a lasting impression on everyone he met.  “If you met him once, you would never forget him,” says Williams. Through the good works of the recipients of the Kevin Sanborn ’87 Internship fund, Sanborn will continue to make a lasting impression on the world.

Other recent recipients of the Kevin Sanborn ’87 Internship include:

  • Arjun ’15, who created small literature reviews, and analyzed and critiqued scientific articles for Whole Help, Inc., New York City, in summer 2014.
  • Tenzin ’16, who worked in primary schools teaching English and childcare skills with the Mirror Foundation, Thailand, in summer 2013.
  • Kayla ’14, who interviewed religious leaders, met with worldwide community leaders, and developed an LGBT youth program for the Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY), New York City, in summer 2013.
  • Kyungmin ’15, who conducted background research, reviewed declarations, and assisted with governmental forms for clients at Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates (VIAA), Burlington, Vermont, in summer 2013.
  • Emma ’14, who managed grant writing, fundraiser organization and documentation, website development, and policy development through individual research at Immigrations and Citizenship Coalition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in summer 2012.
  • Rachel ’12, who assisted in promotion of fundraising events, developed volunteer materials, and visited India to research mental health care and hospitals for Mental Illnesses and Neurological Diseases Foundation, Inc. (MINDS), New York City, in summer 2011.
  • Helen ’12, who helped clients apply for grants, conducted research, and assisted with governmental forms for Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates (VIAA), Burlington, Vermont, in summer 2011.
  • Stephanie ’11, who created a web page, flyers, brochures, and a photo album highlighting the program’s advantages, and shadowed a nurse practitioner at Centering Pregnancy Program, Dorchester, Massachusetts, in summer 2010.


Kevin Sanborn '87 with Sarah Williams '88 in Seattle, summer 1988. (Photo by John Lovett)