Yesterday was one of the most meaningful and engaging convenings I’ve participated in as a president. In fact I have been to a couple of good ones this summer (the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative gave me some great ideas too). But in March the Human Rights Campaign reached out to about 50 HBCUs inviting presidents or senior leaders to participate in a workshop looking at our campus climate for LGBTQ students. Budgets are tight for everyone but they took that off the table from the jump- they covered all expenses.
So I checked my calendar and when I saw it was clear I was in without hesitation. It was a great decision. We had very open and candid conversations about the LGBTQ community on campus (and not just students but faculty and staff as well), and how can we be more inclusive.
We know this is an issue in Black communities. The challenge is magnified when you have church related schools. Dillard is both United Methodist (conservative and teetering on the brink of splitting over LGBTQ issues), and the United Church of Christ (very progressive). So of the schools there that I counted, the vast majority were publics. Along with Dillard, Howard, Morehouse and Johnson C. Smith were the private schools that had representatives.
I also wished more presidents were there. Only 3 of us made it- Dr. James Anderson (Fayetteville State) and Dr. Makola Abdullah (Virginia State). But these are progressive brothers so I was not surprised to see them.
I was also very engaged by the student panel which included one of my students, Erick Dillard (that is his last name). They gave us great insight and feedback, and we pushed them to think as well. I want to thank them for their candor.
We ended our day with a chance to come up with some action plans, so I will share my 2 publicly so you can make sure I do what I said:
- Create a presidential advisory group on LGBTQ life at Dillard. I got the idea hearing that Morgan State has one. I’ve already sent an email to my colleague there Dr. David Wilson, and have sketched out possible members. I also got a message from the coordinator of the LGBTQ center at Fayetteville State who offered his assistance (social media is awesome).
- I’m bringing back Sex Week. One of the parts of the student panel dealt with the lack of sex ed students have. It is even more challenging for LGBTQ students who might not get all the health services they need, especially if the health professional starts with an assumption of being heterosexual. At Philander Smith we did sex weeks and it runs the entire spectrum- sex ed, sexual harassment and assault (Title IX issues), abstinence and religion, responsibility, testing, you name it. I sent a note to our VP for Student Success so we’re going to make this happen. This is another way to be very inclusive for all students, making sure we don’t avoid issues impacting our LGBTQ students.
Below are the media hits this event garnered. We did a press briefing yesterday as well. I want to thank Leslie Hall for his leadership on this project. Definitely an awesome experience as I work to make our campus even more inclusive, and for us all to make the world more inclusive, not just making campuses as these islands or bubbles.