Such reflection on Spelman’s campus led to the Audre Lorde HBCU Summit, held Friday, April 29. The event culminated a three-year study funded by the Arcus Foundation to increase awarenes and understanding about African-American gay and lesbian experiences at HBCU campuses.
Named after world-renowned scholar, author and feminist Audre Lorde, who was the first black openly lesbian woman to speak at Spelman College, the summit is actually a by-product of work done to digitize her collection of papers the school owns and houses.
The comprehensive scholarship uncovered best practices and strategies participating schools can implement to facilitate institutional change in serving the needs of their LGBT students and staff.
“Hopefully this work will help us move away from a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mindset that is now passé and detrimental to our institutional health and well-being,” said Dr. Beverly Guy Sheftall, one of the masterminds behind the groundbreaking summit and scholarship that resulted in a 341-page Summit Resource Book and report.
Sheftall, founding director of the Spelman Women’s Research &Resource Center, scholar M. Jacqui Alexander and other researchers drafted the set of recommendations that are both practical and ambitious in helping participating schools address LGBT students, faculty and staff.
Solutions include the creation of Women’s Studies programs and majors on HBCU campuses, establishing LGBT affinity groups, extending domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff, and conducting public safety training and staff development around issues of gender, sexuality and hate crimes.
Participating schools at the summit included Bennett College for Women, Morehouse College, Philander Smith College, Howard University, Clark Atlanta, Dillard, Fisk, North Carolina Central and Morgan State universities.
“The Audre Lorde HBCU Summit and research project enables us to chart new paths and imagine different futures with respect to issues of gender and sexuality on our campuses,” said Sheftall.
Summit attendee and Oglethorpe University staffer David Smith said he was inspired to participate in the daylong event despite the fact that he does not work for an HBCU institution.
“This event gave us the vocabulary and a guide to equip us to enter into conversations of gender and sexuality in a meaningful way,” said Smith, who works with returning adults. “I wanted to come out and see how academics are approaching these subjects that have a far-reaching impact on all students regardless of race and gender.”
That level of transformative work continues Spelman College’s long-standing goal to produce courageous women leaders who dare to change the world, a value school founders Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles practiced in their own unconventional lives more than 130 years ago.
Top photo: Panelists at the Audre Lorde Summit discussed their experiences as LGBT student activists on black college campuses. They included (L to R) Daniel Edwards, co-chair of Safe Space at Morehouse College; Spelman senior JeShawna Wholley, past president of Afrekete at Spelman; Howard University graduate assistant Victoria Kirby and Spelman graduate and Emory University doctoral candidate Moya Bailey. (by Anare V. Holmes)