Spelman College Becomes the First HBCU to Create Chair in Queer Studies

Spelman College made history on Tuesday, October 29 after it announced it would fund a faculty chair in queer studies.

The Atlanta-based women’s college is the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to create this program.

The college said in a statement that the position was backed by philanthropist Jon Stryker with a matching gift of $2 million. Spelman stated that it had started a fundraising campaign, which will be matched with Stryker’s $2 million donation.

“Spelman College has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion and education among HBCUs,” said Stryker. “By supporting this chair, the goal is to engage and empower the next generation of LGBTQ advocates to create a better world.

The new program will be named after civil rights activist and poet Audre Lorde, who was one of the 20th century’s most influential Black feminists and writers. It will also be tied to the Comparative Women’s Studies Program, which is housed at Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center.

What they’re saying: LGBTQ organizations expressed support for Spelman’s latest initiative. Leslie Hall, Director of the Human Rights Campaign's HBCU program, told The North Star the HRC is proud of Spelman for its new chair. Hall said it isn’t surprising Spelman has taken on this approach, noting that the college announced back in 2017 that it would admit transgender female students.

“Anything along these lines in relation to opening up a tent for student inclusion in this way is a commendable feat,” Hall said.

Hall commended the college for its commitment to fundraising to become a more inclusive campus for LGBTQ students.

“What other institutions can take note is to see that it’s not just the institution’s responsibility,” Hall said. “They can reach out to business leaders, corporate leaders, foundations and partnerships to build an inclusive campus they want to see.”

The director of the HRC HBCU program said there are many low-cost ways that other colleges and universities can implement to support their LGBTQ students.

“Everything that you can do on these campuses doesn’t require a bunch of money,” Hall told TNS. “Hosting trainings, having task forces on campus, and supporting your LGBTQ student groups on campus are really easy, low-cost ways to bringing an inclusive environment to your campus.

Why it matters: Spelman College is setting an example for other HBCU’s in the country. Other HBCU’s, like Morehouse College, are working to become more inclusive for their LGBTQ students. In April, the college announced it would begin admitting transgender students who identify as male in the fall of 2020.

“In a rapidly changing world that includes a better understanding of gender identity, we’re proud to expand our admissions policy to consider trans men who want to be part of an institution that has produced some of the greatest leaders in social justice, politics, business, and the arts for more than 150 years,” Terrance Dixon, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Morehouse, said in a previous statement. “The ratification of this policy affirms the College’s commitment to develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.

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About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.