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HBCUs get help on making campuses more inclusive for transgender students

Human Rights Campaign hosts summit with 12 schools

7:15 AM“We are more diverse than we are similar. We are more layered than we are one thing.”

The statement from Jodie Patterson, the mother of transgender boy Penelope, resonated throughout the first-floor conference room of the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington, D.C. Her words at the Leadership Summit on LGBTQ Inclusion for University Presidents and Senior Executives got the attention of some of the most powerful administrators of America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

And her purpose was evident: adequate transgender inclusion and equity on HBCU campuses.

“When you really break it down, we are talking about self-proclaimed identity,” said Patterson. “I have to keep reminding folks, especially black folks, that we are equipped for this. It’s not going to fracture black communities. It’s not going to break down our black universities. This is about self-determination.

“I want Penel [Penelope] to go to an HBCU,” said Patterson. “Here’s my issue: Not all trans people have surgery. Not all trans people change their body. Spelman is allowing trans women to apply, but only post-operation, I believe. But what if you have a trans person who says this is my body? I am a woman, so this is a woman’s body.”

Patterson told representatives from 12 HBCUs that people have to start thinking about the mind and the spirit before the body and she believes that people in the HBCU environment should start and lead the conversation around this issue.

Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough responded to Patterson’s concerns in a panel discussion with the media after the initial conversation with Patterson and fellow LGBTQ parent Keisha Michaels.

“I think a lot of these colleges and universities aren’t having these conversations. It isn’t simply an HBCU phenomenon, but how do we have those conversations with HBCUs? You still have this church influence, which makes the conversations difficult to have,” said Kimbrough. “But I think there are new opportunities. … There’s just a lot of education that has to be done, and both of them presenting as parents I think is a powerful narrative that our faculty and staff could relate to. Say that this was my child. I would want to make sure my child is being treated the right way and responsibly, and with love and care.”

Claflin University president Henry Tisdale agreed with Kimbrough, saying that the panel was interesting because it provided a firsthand look into what it actually means to be transgender.

“It’s not as simple as we might think,” Tisdale said. “It was interesting to me to learn that there is just so much more that we need to learn at our institutions and to learn that there are resources that we could use to help us do that that are very close to us.

“We will be reaching out and inviting those resources to come to our campuses to help us not just as presidents but to help faculty, staff, administrators and even our students to know more about what this population might mean being on our campus.”

For Makola Abdullah, Virginia State University president, this was his second year attending the summit. He has already started some initiatives to create a more inclusive campus environment at VSU.

“When I was here last year, one of the things I learned about was a presidential task force on LGBTQ initiatives at Morgan State University,” said Abdullah. “So I promptly left and went back and started a presidential task force at Virginia State University, with the idea that the level of action that occurred at the presidential level was having an impact at Morgan State [and] directly impacted the work we do at Virginia State. … That is why I was so keen on making sure that I came this year to continue that momentum of my growth and our institution’s growth.”

Morgan State is looking into creating a “living-learning” community for gender fluid students and possibly creating a diversity and inclusion center for these students on campus.

Administrators at the summit said they are not at the point they wish to be to completely understand the complexities of LGBTQ students, but their goal is to create safe and comfortable communities for all of their students.

“Having heard the commentary today and understanding the diversity in opinion in terms of what it means to be comfortable on campus, we’ve got to take a look at those and continue to evolve to be better at what we do,” said Abdullah. “I think we all want to make sure students are as comfortable as possible, because if they are they are more likely to graduate, and we want them to be able to graduate and chase their dreams.”

“HBCUs are stepping up to expand inclusion and support for LGBTQ people on their campuses,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, senior vice president for programs, training and research for the HRC Foundation. “From enhanced inclusive programming to institutional investment in support staff, the momentum for equality at America’s HBCUs has never been clearer.”

The eight HBCUs besides Dillard, Morgan State, Virginia State and Claflin were Howard, North Carolina A&T, Hampton, Spelman, Kentucky State, Savannah State, Prairie View A&M and Johnson C. Smith.

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7:15 AM“We are more diverse than we are similar. We are more layered than we are one thing.”

The statement from Jodie Patterson, the mother of transgender boy Penelope, resonated throughout the first-floor conference room of the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington, D.C. Her words at the Leadership Summit on LGBTQ Inclusion for University Presidents and Senior Executives got the attention of some of the most powerful administrators of America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

And her purpose was evident: adequate transgender inclusion and equity on HBCU campuses.

“When you really break it down, we are talking about self-proclaimed identity,” said Patterson. “I have to keep reminding folks, especially black folks, that we are equipped for this. It’s not going to fracture black communities. It’s not going to break down our black universities. This is about self-determination.

“I want Penel [Penelope] to go to an HBCU,” said Patterson. “Here’s my issue: Not all trans people have surgery. Not all trans people change their body. Spelman is allowing trans women to apply, but only post-operation, I believe. But what if you have a trans person who says this is my body? I am a woman, so this is a woman’s body.”

Patterson told representatives from 12 HBCUs that people have to start thinking about the mind and the spirit before the body and she believes that people in the HBCU environment should start and lead the conversation around this issue.

Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough responded to Patterson’s concerns in a panel discussion with the media after the initial conversation with Patterson and fellow LGBTQ parent Keisha Michaels.

“I think a lot of these colleges and universities aren’t having these conversations. It isn’t simply an HBCU phenomenon, but how do we have those conversations with HBCUs? You still have this church influence, which makes the conversations difficult to have,” said Kimbrough. “But I think there are new opportunities. … There’s just a lot of education that has to be done, and both of them presenting as parents I think is a powerful narrative that our faculty and staff could relate to. Say that this was my child. I would want to make sure my child is being treated the right way and responsibly, and with love and care.”

Claflin University president Henry Tisdale agreed with Kimbrough, saying that the panel was interesting because it provided a firsthand look into what it actually means to be transgender.

“It’s not as simple as we might think,” Tisdale said. “It was interesting to me to learn that there is just so much more that we need to learn at our institutions and to learn that there are resources that we could use to help us do that that are very close to us.

“We will be reaching out and inviting those resources to come to our campuses to help us not just as presidents but to help faculty, staff, administrators and even our students to know more about what this population might mean being on our campus.”

For Makola Abdullah, Virginia State University president, this was his second year attending the summit. He has already started some initiatives to create a more inclusive campus environment at VSU.

“When I was here last year, one of the things I learned about was a presidential task force on LGBTQ initiatives at Morgan State University,” said Abdullah. “So I promptly left and went back and started a presidential task force at Virginia State University, with the idea that the level of action that occurred at the presidential level was having an impact at Morgan State [and] directly impacted the work we do at Virginia State. … That is why I was so keen on making sure that I came this year to continue that momentum of my growth and our institution’s growth.”

Morgan State is looking into creating a “living-learning” community for gender fluid students and possibly creating a diversity and inclusion center for these students on campus.

Administrators at the summit said they are not at the point they wish to be to completely understand the complexities of LGBTQ students, but their goal is to create safe and comfortable communities for all of their students.

“Having heard the commentary today and understanding the diversity in opinion in terms of what it means to be comfortable on campus, we’ve got to take a look at those and continue to evolve to be better at what we do,” said Abdullah. “I think we all want to make sure students are as comfortable as possible, because if they are they are more likely to graduate, and we want them to be able to graduate and chase their dreams.”

“HBCUs are stepping up to expand inclusion and support for LGBTQ people on their campuses,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, senior vice president for programs, training and research for the HRC Foundation. “From enhanced inclusive programming to institutional investment in support staff, the momentum for equality at America’s HBCUs has never been clearer.”

The eight HBCUs besides Dillard, Morgan State, Virginia State and Claflin were Howard, North Carolina A&T, Hampton, Spelman, Kentucky State, Savannah State, Prairie View A&M and Johnson C. Smith.

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7:15 AM“We are more diverse than we are similar. We are more layered than we are one thing.”

The statement from Jodie Patterson, the mother of transgender boy Penelope, resonated throughout the first-floor conference room of the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington, D.C. Her words at the Leadership Summit on LGBTQ Inclusion for University Presidents and Senior Executives got the attention of some of the most powerful administrators of America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

And her purpose was evident: adequate transgender inclusion and equity on HBCU campuses.

“When you really break it down, we are talking about self-proclaimed identity,” said Patterson. “I have to keep reminding folks, especially black folks, that we are equipped for this. It’s not going to fracture black communities. It’s not going to break down our black universities. This is about self-determination.

“I want Penel [Penelope] to go to an HBCU,” said Patterson. “Here’s my issue: Not all trans people have surgery. Not all trans people change their body. Spelman is allowing trans women to apply, but only post-operation, I believe. But what if you have a trans person who says this is my body? I am a woman, so this is a woman’s body.”

Patterson told representatives from 12 HBCUs that people have to start thinking about the mind and the spirit before the body and she believes that people in the HBCU environment should start and lead the conversation around this issue.

Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough responded to Patterson’s concerns in a panel discussion with the media after the initial conversation with Patterson and fellow LGBTQ parent Keisha Michaels.

“I think a lot of these colleges and universities aren’t having these conversations. It isn’t simply an HBCU phenomenon, but how do we have those conversations with HBCUs? You still have this church influence, which makes the conversations difficult to have,” said Kimbrough. “But I think there are new opportunities. … There’s just a lot of education that has to be done, and both of them presenting as parents I think is a powerful narrative that our faculty and staff could relate to. Say that this was my child. I would want to make sure my child is being treated the right way and responsibly, and with love and care.”

Claflin University president Henry Tisdale agreed with Kimbrough, saying that the panel was interesting because it provided a firsthand look into what it actually means to be transgender.

“It’s not as simple as we might think,” Tisdale said. “It was interesting to me to learn that there is just so much more that we need to learn at our institutions and to learn that there are resources that we could use to help us do that that are very close to us.

“We will be reaching out and inviting those resources to come to our campuses to help us not just as presidents but to help faculty, staff, administrators and even our students to know more about what this population might mean being on our campus.”

For Makola Abdullah, Virginia State University president, this was his second year attending the summit. He has already started some initiatives to create a more inclusive campus environment at VSU.

“When I was here last year, one of the things I learned about was a presidential task force on LGBTQ initiatives at Morgan State University,” said Abdullah. “So I promptly left and went back and started a presidential task force at Virginia State University, with the idea that the level of action that occurred at the presidential level was having an impact at Morgan State [and] directly impacted the work we do at Virginia State. … That is why I was so keen on making sure that I came this year to continue that momentum of my growth and our institution’s growth.”

Morgan State is looking into creating a “living-learning” community for gender fluid students and possibly creating a diversity and inclusion center for these students on campus.

Administrators at the summit said they are not at the point they wish to be to completely understand the complexities of LGBTQ students, but their goal is to create safe and comfortable communities for all of their students.

“Having heard the commentary today and understanding the diversity in opinion in terms of what it means to be comfortable on campus, we’ve got to take a look at those and continue to evolve to be better at what we do,” said Abdullah. “I think we all want to make sure students are as comfortable as possible, because if they are they are more likely to graduate, and we want them to be able to graduate and chase their dreams.”

“HBCUs are stepping up to expand inclusion and support for LGBTQ people on their campuses,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, senior vice president for programs, training and research for the HRC Foundation. “From enhanced inclusive programming to institutional investment in support staff, the momentum for equality at America’s HBCUs has never been clearer.”

The eight HBCUs besides Dillard, Morgan State, Virginia State and Claflin were Howard, North Carolina A&T, Hampton, Spelman, Kentucky State, Savannah State, Prairie View A&M and Johnson C. Smith.