Jodie Patterson is a graduate of a historically black college. She is also the mother of a young transgender boy. And as a parent, she said, she knows what she wants to see from schools.
“I need to see conversations,” she said. “I need to be a part of those conversations.”
Patterson spoke Wednesday at an event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. She and another parent shared the stories of their families — and their perspectives and concerns as parents — with leaders of historically black colleges and universities who gathered for a summit at the LGBT rights advocacy organization.
“I need proof that we are in it, that we are committed to the conversation, that it is robust, that it is diverse,” said Patterson, who is a member of a Human Rights Campaign parent council.
A dozen schools were represented at the gathering in the District, including Howard University, Morgan State University and Spelman College, the Human Rights Campaign said. Participants discussed HIV prevention, corporate diversity and supporting families.
Learning about those issues reflects the schools’ commitment to social justice, said Parris Carter, associate vice president for student affairs at Howard University in Northwest Washington. “So if we’re looking at the way that our campuses should embrace all students, in terms of social justice, I think that’s kind of the foundation of why this is important,” he said.
Among those at the event was Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough, who later said he had already started to look Patterson up online and was planning to have her speak at an event.
“She doesn’t know it yet,” Kimbrough said. “So I’ll tell her before it ends up in the paper.”
It is important to hear from parents, Carter said, because the thoughts they share can help make sure students have a good campus experience.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “That’s why we’ll continue to come.”
This was not the first time that leaders of historically black colleges and universities have convened for a summit at the Human Rights Campaign’s offices. Officials came together last July for an event focused on LGBT inclusion.
“We’re learning a lot. There are lots of things we could still do,” said Kimbrough, who was at last year’s event. “There are some things I think we do really well already.”
The Human Rights Campaign has worked with students on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities, said Sarah McBride, a spokeswoman for the organization.
“We wanted to better prepare senior leadership at those colleges and universities to support those student activists,” she said.
In the past year, Dillard University, a school in Louisiana, put together a group focused on LGBTQ issues. Another school, Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, has set up an LGBTQ resource office. A third campus, Virginia State University, has held inclusion training.
Being able to talk to and learn from the leaders of other historically black schools had a profound impact, said Makola Abdullah, president of Virginia State University.
“That’s why I was so keen on making sure I came this year, to continue that momentum of my work and our institution’s work,” he said.
This was the first time Claflin University President Henry Tisdale had attended the summit. It did not mark the start of diversity and inclusion work on his campus, he said, but the presence of leaders from other historically black colleges and universities set the event apart.
“I wanted to know more about how I might, as the leader and president of Claflin University, position myself and become a better leader in leading this initiative on diversity and inclusion,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today.”