Spelman College’s LGBTQ Activist Scholarships Encourage Advocacy Among HBCUs

Spelman College

Last week, representatives from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) gathered in Washington, D.C., at a summit organized by the Human Rights Campaign. The purpose of the summit was to address the issue that HBCUs have been slow to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

This lack of inclusion means that many black LGBTQ students are choosing to attend elsewhere.

“One of the reasons I chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania is because I didn’t see much effort in recruiting LGBTQ students at HBCUs,” said Ernest Owens, an award-winning journalist who has reported extensively on racial diversity in the LGBTQ community.

One HBCU, Spelman College, hopes to change the conversation about LGBTQ issues on campus with its new scholars program for student LGBTQ advocates.

Spelman College offers two $25,000 scholarships to LGBTQ advocates

In May 2017, Spelman College alumna and professor, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ph.D., launched the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program and companion lecture series with a pledge of $100,000. The lecture series, set to begin in 2018, will explore the issues of race, sexuality, and gender.

“[T]his gift will present new opportunities for critical conversation on race and sexuality with distinguished scholars and thought leaders, and provide a platform to recognize campus LGBTQ advocates and their scholarly achievements,” said Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell in a press release.

As part of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program, Spelman recently announced it will award two sophomore LGBTQ advocates renewable scholarships of $25,000 each, beginning in fall of 2017.

“The scholars will call attention to the importance of making visible the courageous and significant work of LGBTQ scholar activists within and beyond the academy, especially at HBCUs,” said Dr. Guy-Sheftall.

Owens applauded the recognition of LGBTQ advocates through the scholarships. “U-Penn had scholarships and recruitment efforts targeting my racial identity as well as my sexual and gender identity,” he said. “When I heard about the Spelman scholarship, I was pleased to see them considering intersectionality in that spectrum. HBCUs need to go beyond race.”

Expanding the conversation

Adding LGBTQ issues to the conversation is a big reason to applaud the efforts of schools working to address these issues, said Owens. It’s especially important for HBCUs. Owens believes HBCUs have been behind the times in acknowledging and supporting the presence of LGBTQ students on their campuses.

“We need more programs like this that support the conversations around sexual and gender identity, as well as where it intersects with race,” said Owens. “I’d like to see more of this on college campuses across the country. Too many people get their information from pop culture and aren’t enriched in academic settings.”

Inviting student LGBTQ advocates on campus and encouraging programs that examine these issues can lead to greater awareness and promote a change in the community. “This scholarship and lecture program is a recruitment measure that can help Spelman stand out,” he said. “They’re ahead of other HBCUs, and I hope to see a ripple effect that will benefit the entire community.”

LGBTQ scholarships can help underserved youth

Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth face an uphill battle when it comes to attending college, particularly youth of color.

“Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ,” said John Schneider, an LGBTQ financial advocate and founder of the Queer Money podcast. “Without the right support, LGBTQ youth struggle to qualify and pay for college. It makes it that much harder for them to succeed as adults.”

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “LGBTQ homeless youth are disproportionately African American or American Indian, and often from low-income communities, and from poor or working class families.”

Encouraging scholarships for LGBTQ youth can go a long way toward helping underserved youth attend college. “Such a scholarship lets struggling youth know that someone out there cares and is willing to provide an avenue to help them succeed,” Schneider said.

Scholarships aimed at marginalized populations can also empower students to speak up on campus and be a crucial part of the conversation. “I’ve known so many queer black scholars of the future who don’t feel like they have support or a place,” Owens said. “It’s gratifying to see a scholarship like this, especially at an HBCU like Spelman, designated for including others. Spelman is putting its money where its mouth is.”

Find your own scholarship

If you’re struggling to find ways to pay for college, there are plenty of scholarship programs that focus on different demographics. Some of these scholarships are small, but if you apply for several, it can add up to help you pay for college. Take a look at our guide on finding scholarships to help you find ways to pay for college — no matter your situation.

Image credit: Spelman College

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