The summit on LGBT inclusion hadn’t even wrapped for the day. Still, Walter Kimbrough was already mulling over an idea to bring back to his campus.
“Somebody talked about the president of Morgan State has sort of like, an advisory board,” said Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, a private institution in New Orleans. “So I was like, yeah, I could do that. And do it immediately.”
Kimbrough was among the officials from historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, who on Wednesday attended a day-long event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, the influential LGBT rights advocacy group. The effort brought leaders together to talk about “inclusive practices and policies and share best practices for expanding equality” on college campuses, according to a statement.
“I really want them to view us as real, genuine partners in this work,” said Leslie Hall, manager of the advocacy group’s HBCU Project. “And that we are here to support them, as they go back to their campuses.”
More than a dozen HBCUs were represented at the gathering, including Morehouse College in Atlanta, Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and Howard University in Washington, D.C., according to the Human Rights Campaign. Hall said it was important to “shoot for the top” with the event, bringing the issue directly to higher-ups within university administrations — people who could quickly spark changes.
“My program put our money where our mouth is, we funded their trip here, we funded their stay, because we are very serious about making sure that these leaders know that this is an important investment that they need to make or need to expand on their campuses,” Hall said.
The summit meant that leaders of HBCUs could come together and get an idea of “where we are as an institution” when it comes to LGBT issues on their campuses, said Makola Abdullah, president of Virginia State University, when asked about the biggest takeaways from the day. Officials could also compare challenges they’ve encountered and possible solutions, which meant they could work through issues together.
“Then, the third takeaway is that there is an important place for young, black, LGBTQ students, and the challenges that they go through, and how do we as HBCUs begin to position ourselves to be on the cutting edge of that work, I think is also important,” said Abdullah.
Only about 30 percent of HBCUs in the United States have approved campus LGBTQ organizations, said Hall. Some other campuses have “underground” organizations that operate outside the formal structure of the institution. And previous incidents have highlighted the struggle for LGBT inclusion on HBCU campuses. In 2013, for example, a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore who believed he was rejected from a fraternity because of his sexual orientation filed a complaint. The school investigated and later announced the chapter had “violated certain university regulations, procedures and policies.”
“It’s a great opportunity just to sit and listen and think about some of the strategies we might be able to use on our campuses and maybe help nudge some of our colleagues to do some things differently,” Kimbrough said. “Not just in this area but in so many areas.”
Those who attended Wednesday’s event listened to a presentation about how to support students in the classroom, said Hall. Another speaker discussed how firms look to hire from institutions “that are in alignment with corporate diversity strategies and standards that they have at that level,” Hall said. Later in the day, participants were expected to review the conversations and work out actions they could take upon returning to their schools.
“Like Dr. Kimbrough said, he was thinking of things he could do the moment he gets back to campus,” Hall said. “And that is what we want them to do.”