Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Safe Space: HBCUS Taking Concrete Steps to Support LGBTQA Students

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Safe Space: HBCUS Taking Concrete Steps to Support LGBTQA Students

Article excerpt

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Though it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations about HBCUs, for the most part, they are more commonly associated with conservative traditions and Christian-based values than they are with vibrant LGBTQA communities. Yet as times and student demographics change, HBCUs will be increasingly challenged to ensure that all students are equally protected and valued on campus.

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Dr. John Michael Lee Jr., vice president for access and success at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), notes that HBCU student bodies have greater expectations of diversity.

"Students that are coming [to HBCUs] are different," Lee says. "They've had different experiences, they've grown up in more diverse communities, and so the expectations of diversity are very different."

Broader national issues like the legal battles over same-sex marriage have brought LGBTQA issues to the forefront. As national sentiments change, that has spilled over to HBCUs. "I think you're seeing more efforts to be inclusive on campus," says Lee.

Some majority institutions have invested substantial dollars in efforts to combat discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. They have dedicated resources, spaces on campuses and even administrative positions to promote LGBTQA issues.

A handful of institutions, like Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, have taken it several steps further by covering gender reassignment surgeries for employees and students under the campus health plan.

All this is part of a general movement to help LGBTQA students come into their own at higher ed institutions. "Research has shown that students who don't feel supported in their identities on campus are more likely to leave, and the same goes for faculty and staff' says Demere Woolway, co-chair of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, in an electronic message to Diverse.

LGBTQA groups flourish

Individual HBCUs do not have the same type of resources as Harvard or Perm at their disposal. But what some HBCUs do have are motivated student groups that are actively effecting change. Given the space and encouragement to flourish, they have done just that.

In the past, LGBTQA students felt compelled to remain silent about their identities or risk censure or worse from their peers. But now, at some schools, it's possible for LGBTQA students to be more vocal about who they are. "The students are saying, 'Hey, we want to be supported. We want to feel like were part of the campus,"' Lee says, noting that Spelman College and Bowie State University now have resource centers for their LGBTQA students.

Bowie State's quest to create an LGBTQA resource center is illustrative of how difficult it can be to get one operating with limited resources. Though the administration supported the idea, it took from 2007 to 2012 to bring the plan to fruition.

The University of Maryland, College Park, offered to donate furniture to the new BSU venture. But even then, BSU had trouble finding the funding to transport the furniture to campus.

Morehouse Colleges Safe Space is an example of a group that has been effective, even without an office or resource center on campus. Morehouse student Marcus Lee, Safe Spaces president, says that the group does not feel shortchanged by the lack of space. After all, Morehouse does not yet have a student center for its student body. …

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