Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with my cousins who are Morehouse men from different generations. Given the difference in time when attending Morehouse, they all provided unique perspectives of policy changes at the institution over the years. One particular policy change that sparked much conversation was Morehouse College’s recent transgender policy. Morehouse College’s transgender policy comes seven years after their appropriate attire policy. The policy covers the dress code norms regarding what should be worn and who can wear specific types of clothing.
As a graduate of multiple historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), I have seen first-hand the high regard HBCUs hold themselves to regarding diversity and support of educating the next generation of African-American men and women. HBCUs play a critical role in providing social environments and experiences that promote diverse student populations. Unfortunately, when we talk about diversity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students are often excluded from the conversation. The gaps in federal educational policy and a lack of institutional policy fails to address queer issues and leaves college students that identify as Queer unprotected from discrimination.
Traditionally, HBCUs have been places that nurture students and promote diversity. However, when it comes to embracing LGBTQ students, many HBCUs fall short of identifying the best ways to be inclusive on campus. HBCUs have a reputation for being conservative places. Many HBCUs were founded through alignment with religious entities which have deterred HBCUs from engaging in conversations around LGBTQ issues or adopting policies to further ensure students are not discriminated against.
The Campus Pride HBCU Clearinghouse, provides the most up-to-date resources for HBCUs. The website highlights the core policies and program that will help a HBCU determine where they are in terms of LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs and practices. Georgia has 10 HBCUs across the state, nine out of the 10 meets at least one of the 14 criteria on the Campus Pride LGBTQ Checklist. Campus Pride has also been recommended by researchers who suggest that higher education institutions should use to determine where colleges stand in regard to inclusivity and anti-discriminatory policies.
When reviewing the Campus Pride database, Morehouse College made their Dean’s list, meeting 7 out of the 14 criteria which includes: an active LGBTQ student organization, an ally program or safe space, and a special lavender or rainbow graduation ceremony, just to name a few. After visiting the Morehouse College website their transgender policy was accessible, however information about their student support resources regarding their student organizations and safe spaces were inaccessible for a prospective student that aspire to be Morehouse Men. The steps HBCUs are taking to protect students from discrimination while on campus, is subtle and needs to be intentionally woven into the campus culture, and publicly accessible. Unfortunately, this information could not be found on the Morehouse College website.
Due to the historical stigmatizing of LGBTQ students, there needs to be policy recommendations that will address the lack of inclusivity and educational policy that protect college students within the LGBTQ HBCU community in Georgia.
It is important for Morehouse College to promote their inclusive program and resources that support queer students and share how they have been implemented. This would provide clarity of any concerns regarding policies that prevent discrimination and promote inclusivity amongst the student population as well as a case study for other colleges.
HBCUs employ faculty and staff from many different generations. Due to the generational divide it’s important faculty and staff are exposed to mandatory training on gender identify and expression. This training should also be woven into student orientation and student events to augment their understanding and acceptance of gender diversity. These training and inclusion in programming will ensure nondiscriminatory policies and practices are implemented effectively. Change is hard but necessary when it comes to providing Black students with the best education and experience achievable.
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the sixth president of Morehouse College, encouraged students to generate and challenge ideas, which promoted freedom of expression, therefore developing future leaders. As an advocate for students and empowering them to make positive change, it is important for me to highlight the importance of institutional policies that are inclusive of all the students that colleges and universities serve. Regardless of a student’s innate gender identity, HBCUs should keep with their legacy of race uplift, calling out discrimination, and provide an inclusive campus environment for all their students. I am so happy that Morehouse is moving in this direction.
Denise A. Smith is a doctoral student in the higher education program at Howard University. Her research explores the intersection of public health issues and higher education.