ATLANTA - On Friday, April 29, 2011, nine historically black colleges and universities will gather at Spelman College for the historic summit, “Facilitating Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity, and Progressive Change at HBCUs,” to examine institutional climate issues around diversity, inclusion, gender and sexuality at HBCUs. Launched by the Spelman College Women’s Research and Resource Center from a grant received from the Arcus Foundation three years ago, the advocacy project is the first time a range of HBCUs will convene to engage in dialogue about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender issues on Black college campuses.
The summit comes at a critical time as many colleges and universities around the nation grapple with LGBT issues in the wake of the highly public suicide of a gay male student at Rutgers University.
“The overall goal of the Arcus Project is to increase public awareness and understanding about African American gay and lesbian experiences, as well as sexuality issues in the African Diaspora,” said Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ph.D., founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center. “We are committed as well to facilitating climates of institutional change at HBCUs that acknowledge, value, and respect difference. At the end of our project, we are delighted about what we learned related to best practices, the scholarship we generated, and the opportunity for future projects around LGBT issues on our campuses.
“While many of our HBCU partners have active LGBT student organizations, public discourse around sexuality issues has been less public on our campuses,” added Guy-Sheftall.
During the summit, leading experts and practitioners will present important research findings, offer recommendations, and facilitate dialogue about how to move forward in establishing open and inclusive environments for LGBT students, staff, and faculty on college campuses.
Research findings include analyses of the nature of resistance to exploring LGBT issues on campuses as well as reflections on the part of LGBT alumni about their experiences as undergraduates. A broad range of recommendations will be discussed including instituting training modules on sexual orientation and gender identity as a regular component of new and ongoing staff and faculty orientation, and including activities on campus calendars that are designed to increase awareness, promote critical dialogue, and engage scholarship about LGBT people and communities.
A number of the partner HBCUs worked with two national LGBT organizations, Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition, on their HBCU initiatives.
In addition to Spelman, HBCUs participating in the one-day summit include Bennett College for Women, Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Southern University, North Carolina Central University, Philander Smith College, Morehouse College, Southern University, and Morgan State University. The audience will consist of administrators, faculty, staff, and students as well as LGBT community advocates from across the country.
The Women’s Research and Resource Center is the first women’s research center at a historically Black college and the first one to offer a women’s studies major. Over the course of its 30-year history, with sustained support from the Ford Foundation, the Center has facilitated faculty and student leadership development; collaborated with other departments/programs on and off campus to establish new courses (most recently in the sciences) that address issues of gender, race, and sexuality; established international linkages with universities outside the U.S. to increase their capacity to promote faculty and student development; and hosted a number of conferences that explore the lives of African and African descended women in a variety of cultural contexts.
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a prestigious, highly selective, liberal arts college that prepares women to change the world. Located in Atlanta, Ga., this historically black college boasts a 79 percent graduation rate, and outstanding alumnae such as Children's Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman; former U.S. Foreign Service Director General Ruth Davis, authors Tina McElroy Ansa and Pearl Cleage; and actress LaTanya Richardson. More than 83 percent of the full-time faculty members have Ph.D.s or other terminal degrees, and the average faculty to student ratio is 12:1. More than 2,100 students attend Spelman.