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Spelman College to use $2M gift for 1st ‘queer studies’ chair at an HBCU

Spelman College (Image source: Instagram – @spelman_college)

Officials at nationally renowned Spelman College have announced that the historically Black women’s institution has accepted a $2 million gift from billionaire Jon Stryker to create the first-ever queer studies at an HBCU, according to Forbes magazine.

Stryker, is an architect, philanthropist and the founder and president of the Arcus Foundation, a private, global grantmaking organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights, and conservation efforts. Stryker, who is also openly gay, told Forbes that he gifted Spelman the money in order to help advance LBGTQ rights in the United States through the power of education.

Styker and Spelman College said these objectives will be accomplished through the establishment of the Audre Lorde Queers Studies program. Lorde was a legendary queer Black poet, activist, and feminist who, upon her death, bequeathed her most important papers to the all-women institution to advance queer studies, reports,

“The more that people understand queer history and LGBTQ issues, the more likely they are to accept and support the LGBTQ community,” Stryker told Forbes in an email. “By empowering and educating the next generation, we can help make a future where LGBTQ people have full and equal protections under the law.”

According to Forbes, the chair will teach classes in queer studies and be a part of community conversations and advocacy surrounding issues related to being a homosexual and transsexual.

Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the founding director of Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center, admits that the start of the queer studies program was delayed for years due to resistance from alumni and many in the Black community, among other factors. However, she was familiar with how to navigate this landscape as she faced similar resistance when she tried to establish the women’s studies major at the school 30 years ago.

“There was some angst about how serious or rigorous or faddish it was, or was it going to disappear?” she told Forbes. “There was a lot of anxiety — what can students do with women’s studies and queer studies? They do the same thing [as they can] with a history, English or philosophy major.”

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