Spelman Takes Pride in Championing Diversity

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BGSAs 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

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  1. Amelia Arnold Jordan, C' 68 says

    What happen to our logo ” Our School for Christ?”. Not everyone agrees with the pride week, I am one who does not agree.

  2. Vannay Kirkland c'2011 says

    “Our School for Christ?”

    Not everyone agrees with this motto, I am on who does not agree. It is narrow-minded and crippling to a school who prides itself on diversity. Nor does it fit in well with the mission statement of the school… unless of course, Spelman’s administration somehow believes that its whole student body is fanatic Christian fundamentalists.

    Pride Weeks will continue on this campus because the women of Spelman College need to know about LGBTQIA issues… and to spite religious fundamentalists.

  3. Kay says

    I don’t know about this one, I really don’t see how they were excluded to begin with. I guess it doesn’t matter at the end of the day….Being that it’s a learning institution that should always come first but having I don’t see how they were or are being deprived of it, when I was there c/o 09′ I always knew about the club and functions and the sort…we don’t do other culturally “pride” things so it’s going past the normal inclusion that other organizations and people that believe in “other” things get in my opinion.

  4. Kay says

    Furthermore, if Spelman wants to step away from its historical beliefs like the motto and all that then so be it but there will be some that disagree and agree, but a big part of Spelman is legacy and if they plan on being so diverse then why is it still predominately black and and all female, thats far from diverse or is there a spectrum of “diversity” that they want to accomplish…how confusing with all sorts of gray…”kinda diverse but we’re not really”…Atlanta has a huge population of homosexuals the heterosexuals are the minority here we don’t have to have a gay pride at school, the entire city has one, come on with a better one than “diversity” just be real

  5. Jennifer c/o 99 says

    Not sure how I feel about this. I remember the old traditional values instilled in us when we participated in freshman orientation (white dresses, flesh toned pantyhose, black shoes to pay tribute to black women who had to dress only with these options). At the same time, we were told to be bold, womanist, progressive..set the world on fire! I suppose this is the next step..but does tradition still play a part in our school?

  6. Moya C'05 says

    I am so PROUD of Afrekete! A heartfelt congratulations to Spelman students who dare to create new traditions when old ones are exlusionary and have outlived their usefulness. Thanks also to the Women’s Center for providing students the space literally and figuratively to create a new realitity for Spelman College.

    Hip Hip Hooray for Afrekete!

  7. says

    These letters are clear examples that Afrekete still needs fierce support from the Women’s Center and from Alumnae who were allies and who were a part of the growing legacy of this organization. Even here, as Dr. Guy-Sheftall has written this fierce letter applauding the good work of the organization there are alumna who wish to actively speak against young women who are in support of themselves and their sisters who are sexual minorities. I support all of my Spelman Sisters. All of us. As an Alumna, as a former member and leader in this organization, and as a Feminist and Womanist (Alice Walker after all said that a womanist who loves women, either sexually or not. Its amazing how we forget about that.)

    Kudos Afrekete, kudos Women’s Center, and may all of the Alumna who are in support please stand up and let these young women know that we are here for them!

  8. Annie says

    I for one am very excited and proud to learn about Spelman’s commitment to LGBTQ communities and issues. It offers options to a group of brilliant thinkers, who might otherwise go elsewhere when they really have a lot to give and gain from being at Spelman. Off the top of my head, I know of four alumni who are extremely successful, who are lesbians, whose experiences at Spelman would have been greatly enhanced had this work been in place 15 years ago. I’m glad that this new generation has a space for their development and growth. I hope other HBCU’s also join in this effort to make the world safer for all of our daughters, sons and otherwise.

  9. Leana Cabral says

    I am so proud of Afrekete and the WRRC!! Audre Lorde would be proud and with these efforts the WRRC is fully deserving of her papers. Homophobia and heterosexism were two of the most disparaging parts of my Spelman experience and it’s great to such effort and commitment to their amelioration. Couldn’t be more proud of my Spelman sisters and the beloved WRRC!

  10. Wendi O'Neal says

    I am proud to see a continuation of efforts to challenge homophobia at Spelman! Several of us started the 1st chartered/out lesbian organization at Spelman and we did a pride week in October ’95 sponsored by the Lesbian Bisexual Alliance (LBA) which also recieved support from the women’s center. When we did our week of activities; kicked off by covering the campus with purple triangles written with facts about Black lgbt folks. Although we did this to spread little known facts about Black queer life that is often erased from our history – it was very hard to get the campus to talk about anything but a few jokes. It does my heart good, to see sisters still working to expand our possibilities for liberation as Black people. This brings me hope for Spelman -and chalenges me to organize my fellow LBA allum to find some way to give back to Spelman in honor of the work these sisters are doing.

  11. says

    My heart is bursting with joy to read about Spelman’s Pride Week. Go my sisters! Go! You are doing the good work of a truly loving and caring God by supporting this important institution in making sure it makes rooms for all God’s daughters. My prayers go out to all who cannot see that.

  12. Leigh says

    I’m thrilled to know Spelman and Afrekete are putting on Pride Week! Sometimes a few people try to use “tradition,” “heritage,” and what those who founded ____ as an excuse to prevent change that is so very needed. We see it in each of the important movements in the civil/ human rights struggle. Rights for Women, Rights for People of Color, Rights for Queer People, Rights for Immigrants and those words/ phrases are nothing but an excuse. If one is oppressed we all are.

    So long as we members of marginalized groups fail to support one another and are divided those who “have” and “have not” will remain the same (in particular I say shame on the alumna from C’68 who has witnessed so much of this struggle and who was in Atlanta during the civil rights movement of the 60s). Spelman may as a whole not brag about these accomplishments or even be proud of them—-the powers that be might sweep it all under the rug when perspective students come or when alumnae make a fuss. Don’t be discouraged! Press on and continue the struggle!

    All of Atlanta is not Queer (as has been made plain by some here) and saying such is kin to saying that all of Atlanta is Black. This is not true and it is certainly not true when considering those who have power in Atlanta. Shame on those WOMEN of COLOR who use God as an excuse for their bigotry! God don’t like nasty!

  13. Joni says

    Spelman should always be at the forefront of progressing important conversations within the black community. Hooray for Afrekete!

  14. Ginger Walker says

    YES Spelman has made it, WE ARE HERE WE ARE QUEER AND WE ARE GOING NO WHERE!!! You can either get used to it, or not because it really doesn’t matter what you think. We have been here from the beginning and we will be here until the end. I am extremely joyous in the fact that our cause and its efforts were/are a success and that was proven in the attendance numbers at each event. We owe a lot of this to our wonderful president Jeshawna Wholley as well as help from Safespace. I just want it to be said that Spelman reached out the hand to Morehouse, that is all we can do because we cannot fight this battle of diversity for them, they have to want it for themselves.

  15. Tabia Parker says

    “Spelman College prepares forward-thinking, socially conscious women to change the world in meaningful ways.” (Spelman College Platform)

    Wow…I’m truly surprised by a few of the comments made by some of the earlier respondents. It’s not the spectrum of opinion that’s surprising, but more so the connections being made between the Institution’s 130 year old motto and the young women and faculty who walk that campus everyday, TODAY. AFREKETE provides a significant and reliable support system for the LGBTQ community, both within and around the AUC. The WRRC was, and still is, a necessary ally in sustaining that system. The relationship gave AFREKETE a louder voice when we needed one, and subsequently we were heard. Is it unusual to people that Spelman College would evolve right along with the rest of the world? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be done as far as “change” is concerned, and even more that needs to be undone in my opinion. But there were times when we had to re-post meeting announcements over and over again because they were torn down by those who opposed our objectives, our Spelman “sisters.” I hope we’ve come farther. It’s pretty scary that people use Christianity as a platform to reject tolerance and inclusion. Should Muslim students not be allowed to show there faith? Huh??? Is that the tradition we want to perpetuate? If so, are we not concerned with how divisive that will be? What is the overall objective for the opposition? For things to stay the same? Imagine where we’d be if that were always the case…and for those who need an update, the school motto is now “A Choice to Change the World.” What choice are you making today?

  16. Jalylah says

    Kudos to Afrekete & the Spelman College administration for working to ensure that the campus is a safe space for all!

    I love the Spelman Motto, “Our Whole School for Christ,” just as I respect that Spelman community members, *IF* they seek the divine, have many different paths. But as a believer in Christ myself, I take issue with invoking Christ to exclude, persecute and silence – that is NOT the spirit of the God that I serve. Be blessed sisters.

    Onward & Upward,
    Jalylah Burrell
    c/o 2002

  17. L'Erin Asantewaa c/o '01 says

    Go Spelman! Go Afrekete! It’s incredibly courageous, brilliant and beautiful to continue in the legacy of pioneering Spelman women and create what you need when it has not previously existed.

    As Spelman has had students of all faiths for most of its existence, the motto of being a “whole school for Christ” is distinctly inaccurate. On the same note, believing that Spelman women have ever been a homogeneous group of heterosexual women is similarly incorrect. I am so proud of my Spelman sisters for being and creating the change they want to see in the world instead of waiting for permission from from alumnae or administrators.

    And anyway, last time I checked, Christ loved and accepted everyone without judgment. Let’s trust that example and continue creating a world and institution that works for everyone!

    Blessings, love and deep gratitude to the Women’s Center for being a safe space for everyone, especially those who are committed to transforming the world!

  18. Kyja says

    I also am an alumna and I’m very proud of this work. I think it is important. I love that Spelman is rich in tradition but I wholeheartedly agree with Moya that sometimes traditions must change. My absolute favorite aspect of Spelman was its diversity. It was extremely important for me as a young black women to be in a community of black women who were all different, but still reaching for the same essential goal: educating ourselves to change our world. I wish I could celebrate Pride Week at Spelman.

  19. Trina Neal says

    It says something beautiful about the students and faculty to come together and organize events, to do their part as a member of the Spelman family by making sure there is a support system for everyone. Not only is it great for those already involved in issues of sexuality and human rights, but it is a time to feel community, share experiences, learn more about the world, and to also help students evaluate their religious beliefs with the reality of not forcing oneself to conform in a world where we all just want to be ourselves. People are not gay to spite God.

    Many students would not know anything about the struggles of the LGBT community, our rich history that includes those who identify as LGBT, or even simple things like… just because a woman loves women, it does not mean she is hitting on you. lol. In short, the WRRC always does an amazing job of pushing the consciousness of the campus. It is something that has to happen and there is no better department to lead than he WRRC!

  20. Pier Smith c/o 06 says

    I am proud of Spelman for expanding it’s reach by educating and fighting for LGBTQ issues. The wonderful thing about Spelman is not so much the “tradition” we have all come to know but the fact that it has the ability to lift up all its women and open our minds when it comes to our differences and regardless of our differences, we can all exist and be valid within those gates. Spelman’s identity is not one-dimensional. The work of the WRRC is a proof of this. I think we do our institution a real disservice when we perceive it in such a small vacuum and create a hierarchy of injustice based upon our own personal beliefs. I’m proud of Afrekete and the all the work that is being done to create safe spaces for all Spelman women.

  21. says

    Oh Spelman,
    How do I love thee…
    My journey with Spelman, while I was there and well after, has been one of love and hate, with a very thin dividing line that I cross constantly. The presence of Pride Week brings me a little more healing and a little bit closer to the love side. :)
    I am grateful for the students and faculty who created and supported this concept in spite of the stares, the whispers, and even the internalized oppression. I am grateful that they are challenging their Spelman sisters on their homogenous definitions of inclusion. I am grateful that because of this Week, years in the making, SC is one step closer to producing women who are prepared for the real world; where neighbors, colleagues, bosses and friends come in different shapes, sizes and sexualities, where you cannot ignore (or pray away) the people you do not want to deal with. I hope that the Womens Center continues to support its lesbian and bi population by standing with them on a campus that has not yet grown to be unself-conscious enough to embrace true acceptance for all. We cannot live fulfilled lives without awareness and Pride Week did that if nothing else.

    There is no such thing as a Spelman Woman. There are however many awesome, intelligent, courageous, passionate, beautiful and diverse Spelman Women and for that I am a truly grateful.

  22. Whitney Cabey c/o '03 says

    There have already been so many well stated comments on this topic, I have little to add other than another voice of support for the Women’s Center and the work of progressive women across campus.

    The traditions of rebelliousness, activism and speaking truth to power in both the spiritual and secular realms are an equal part of Spelman’s legacy. I echo the sentiments of others — it is disheartening to find black women using religion as a tool of bigotry and divisiveness. I hope the earliest comments and all the positive ones thereafter give our sisters on campus not only a sense of purpose but of also a sense of the large network of supportive alum that surround them.

    Continue the wonderful work that you do.

  23. Nicole Barden C/09 says

    I told my students in Indonesia about Spelman. They all knew Harvard, and now they know Spelman College. It’s great they know about an institution filled with bold, forward moving, and progressive women of color. What a platform to build on and what a legacy to share with the world. Congrats to Afrekete and the Women’s Center.


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