Spelman College announces new LGBT scholarship program

Students at Atlanta’s Spelman College will soon have access to more LGBT resources — a new scholarship program and a lecture series on issues of race, gender and sexuality, which will begin next year.

The Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program launched with a pledge of $100,000 in May, according to a news release.

Two sophomore students who are “self-identified LGBTQ advocates,” will be named Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars this year and will receive $25,000 renewable scholarships.

Spelman professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall, who created the program and lecture series, said the two scholarship recipients will “call attention to the importance of making visible the courageous and significant work of LGBTQ scholar activists” both within and beyond the school.

Guy-Sheftall is the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center and the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies. Watkins was her late cousin, and served as a member of the women’s center’s National Advisory Board from 2008 until his death in 2015.

“He had a special relationship with Spelman College, and just as he prepared students for careers in medicine, so does Spelman. He was an advocate for social justice throughout his distinguished medical career and Spelman also encourages social change activism,” Guy-Sheftall said in the news release.

Watkins, who received an honorary degree from Spelman, was the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human. He was also a noted civil rights activists, enabling students of color to attend Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He was also Vanderbilt University’s first black medical school graduate, and went on to become the first black chief resident of cardiac surgery and professor of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins.

“As an institution that upholds a supportive student experience, this gift will present new opportunities for critical conversation on race and sexuality with distinguished scholars and thought leaders, and provide a platform to recognize campus LGBTQ advocates and their scholarly achievements,” Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell said in the news release.

This is the latest move towards turning Spelman into a more inclusive environment for LGBT students. The college is waiting to hear from its Board of Trustees at the end of this fiscal year to see whether or not transwomen will be able to apply to Spelman. Schmidt-Campbell convened a Transgender Policy Task Force last fall as part of her commitment to expanding Title IX policies and practices, and the task force presented its recommendations to the Board in April.