ATLANTA, GA — OCTOBER 29, 2019 — Spelman College, the global leader in the liberal arts education of Black women, today announced the creation of a chair in Queer Studies backed by a matching gift from philanthropist Jon Stryker of up to $2 million. This first-ever chair of its kind housed at a historically Black college or university will be named after celebrated poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde and attached to the Comparative Women's Studies Program housed at Spelman's Women's Research and Resource Center. Spelman will immediately implement a fundraising campaign to raise $2 million, which will be matched by a $2 million gift from Stryker.
"Spelman College has long been at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion and education among HBCUs," said Stryker. "By supporting this chair, the goal is to engage and empower the next generation of LGBTQ advocates to create a better world."
"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," said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman. "A chaired professorship in Queer Studies enables the College to build on one of its strengths and that is the Spelman's educational inclusiveness, spearheaded by the Women's Research and Resource Center under the stellar direction of Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Spelman's Women's Center has been and continues to be a pioneering leader in advancing scholarship in the area of Queer Studies. Jon Stryker's generous contribution to further his commitment to LGBTQ inclusion and education will allow Spelman students to deepen their understanding around the study of sexuality and gender. We are honored to name the chair after the literary luminary and fierce activist, Audre Lorde."
Lorde was selected by Stryker as the chair's namesake for her groundbreaking and life-long commitment to civil rights and progressive social change. She had a strong connection to Spelman, speaking on campus on several occasions and donating her personal papers and other artifacts in 1995 to the Spelman Archives, a part of the College's Women's Center. The Audre Lorde Papers have been open to scholars since 2009 following a grant from the Arcus Foundation, founded by Stryker, which enabled the papers to be processed and displayed for students, faculty, and researchers from around the world.
"We salute Jon Stryker's vision and his commitment to Queer Studies, and believe that Spelman is the ideal home for the Audre Lorde Chair in Queer Studies. Our mother was deeply committed to LGBTQ youth and believed passionately in the power of scholarship, which to her meant learning plus excellence. She knew Spelman is a place where that magic happens, which is why she wanted her papers there, and she would be thrilled at this gift," said Jonthan Rollins and Beth Lorde Rollins, Audre Lorde's children.
The daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Lorde was born in New York City and wrote her first poem at age 12. While attending Hunter College in the 1950s, Lorde became a leader in the early lesbian activist community and her poetry was published regularly throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. She wrote extensively on topics of sexuality, race, gender, class, disease, the arts, parenting and resistance. She was lauded for her published writings, including nine volumes of poetry and five books of prose, when she was named New York State's Poet Laureate in 1991. "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed," she said. "But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak."
Stryker is the founder and president of the Arcus Foundation, a private, global grant-making organization that supports the advancement of LGBTQ human rights and conservation of the world's great apes. He has supported the foundation's ongoing efforts with more than $500 million in funding since its inception in 2000. Stryker is also a founding board member of the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya, Save the Chimps in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and Greenleaf Trust bank in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He currently serves on the boards of his undergraduate alma mater Kalamazoo College, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Save the Chimps, and is Patron of Nature for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"As a Spelman alumna, Board of Trustees member, and chair of the Advisory Board for the Audre Lorde Professorship, I am delighted to provide leadership in an effort to secure matching funds for this significant project in Spelman's ongoing commitment to inclusion and academic excellence," said Advisory Board chair Colleen Taylor.
In 2011, Spelman's Women's Center hosted the Arcus-funded historic summit 'Facilitating Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity, and Progressive Change at HBCUs,' which examined institutional climate issues around diversity, inclusion, gender and sexuality at HBCUs. In 2017, the Women's Center Director Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ph.D., honoring her cousin, instituted the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program, which awards two renewable scholarships for LGBTQ advocates and also has a companion lecture series that explores contemporary issues of race, gender and sexuality. Spelman has also affirmed its acceptance of the transgender community, officially expanding its admission policy to include trans students.
About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a leading liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, the College's picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Spelman is the country's leading producer of Black women who complete Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math ( STEM ). The College's status is confirmed by U.S. News and World Report, which ranked Spelman No. 57 among all liberal arts colleges and No. 1 among historically Black colleges and universities. The Wall Street Journal ranked the College No. 3, nationally, in terms of student satisfaction. Outstanding alumnae include Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Starbucks Group President and COO Rosalind Brewer, former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman's first alumna president Audrey Forbes Manley, global bioinformatics geneticist Janina Jeff and authors Pearl Cleage and Tayari Jones. For more information, visit www.spelman.edu .
—From a press release