Thanks to a $2 million gift from philanthropist Jon Stryker, Spelman College will establish its first endowed chair position in Queer Studies named in honor of poet and feminist Audre Lorde.
The historically Black college announced the creation of the chair on Tuesday; the newly created position will reportedly be attached to the school’s Comparative Women’s Studies program with Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center.
“Spelman College has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion and education among HBCUs,” Stryker said in a statement released by Spelman. “By supporting this chair, the goal is to engage and empower the next generation of LGBTQ advocates to create a better world.”
Stryker’s gift will match the college’s $2 million fundraising campaign.
“A major theme of Spelman’s strategic plan is ‘elevating the Spelman Difference,’ that is creating opportunities to recruit and retain the kind of excellent faculty who are the hallmark of Spelman excellence,” Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D. said. “We are honored to name the chair after the literary luminary and fierce activist, Audre Lorde.”
Lorde is closely connected to Spelman; in her will, she donated her personal papers and articles to the college. She was also friends with Spelman’s first Black female president, Johnetta Cole.
Jonathan Rollins, Lorde’s son, told Forbes his mother would be “over the moon” to learn about the chair being named in her honor.
The new position sets a precedent as the first position of its kind at a historically Black college or university, Forbes reports. Stryker, who is the founder and president of the Arcus Foundation which supports the LGBTQ community, said his gift was made in part because of education’s influential role in advancing LGBTQ rights.
“By empowering and educating the next generation, we can help make a future where LGBTQ people have full and equal protections under the law,” he said.
According to Forbes, Spelman’s decision in 2017 to admit female-identifying students regardless of their gender assignment at birth, matched with student activism, motivated the Women’s Research and Resource Center to pursue funding opportunities for a queer studies faculty position.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall, founding director of Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center, said the school and other HBCUs have faced considerable resistance to establishing queer studies programs due to religious affiliations, alumni pushback and a lack of expert faculty.
“There was some angst about how serious or rigorous or faddish it was, or was it going to disappear?” she said as she recalled the challenges of helping to start Spelman’s women’s studies major 30 years ago. “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.”
The chair will teach queer studies at the Atlanta-based, all-female college as part of the comparative women’s studies major and direct community dialogues and advocacy around queer issues.
Guy-Sheftall told Forbes once the funds have been raised, the college is looking to hire a chair by 2022.