As Spelman’s director of the Women’s Research and Research Center, now in its 28th year, I want to reflect upon the College’s first Pride Week, which is organized and sponsored by AFREKETE, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer allies’ organization that is housed at the center.
For nearly three decades we have been addressing issues of inclusion and difference at Spelman, the Atlanta University Center Consortium, and among historically Black colleges and universities. Garnering national attention for our efforts, including major foundations like Ford and Arcus, WRRC remains unique among HBCUs for our persistence in addressing lesbian and gay issues in our programming, community outreach, student leadership development initiatives, and in our curriculum. In this regard, we probably offered the first Black queer studies course, which was taught in the spring 2008 by a Spelman alumna, professor Layli Phillips, C’86, a member of the women’s studies faculty at Georgia State University.
Among our many objectives at WRRC with respect to addressing race and gender issues is the work we are doing as a result of two grants from the Arcus Foundation. The first, the Audre Lorde Black Feminist Project, was awarded in 2006, and the second, awarded in 2008, funded The Audre Lorde Project Phase ll: Facilitating HBCU Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity and Progressive Change.
The overall objectives of the Audre Lorde Project are to increase public awareness and understanding about African-American gay and lesbian experiences; to increase awareness about the marginalization of racial issues in the LGBTQ movement and gay and lesbian studies in the academy; and to facilitate a climate of institutional change that acknowledges, values, and respects difference, especially within particular academic contexts.
During Phase I, we processed the Audre Lorde Papers (housed in our Archives); instituted the ZAMI Project, a series of student-driven activities designed to raise awareness and combat homophobia and heterosexism; and promoted a more inclusive environment among the more than 8,000 students, faculty, and staff of the Atlanta University Center. Phase I of the project established the WRRC as a major site for the exploration of Black queer issues in Black higher education.
More expansive and comprehensive, Phase ll focuses on a broad range of HBCUs with respect to LGBTQ issues, and addresses difficult-to-tackle climate issues at all levels, not just in student life. The first project of its kind at a Black college, it is also the first project at a Black college funded by Arcus, a prestigious, cutting-edge foundation with respect to its commitment to LGBTQ issues. In addition to working with faculty and students on a range of HBCU campuses, WRRC faculty will also work with presidents, provosts, and other administrators addressing climate issues on their respective campuses, like the recent controversy surrounding a newly established dress code involving cross-dressing at Morehouse College.
Our first Pride Week at Spelman College underscores the willingness on the part of WRRC to engage in controversial but important diversity issues as they impact students, staff, and faculty, at our special mission-driven colleges and universities. — Beverly Guy-Sheftall, C’66