Embracing the LGBTQA Community at HBCUs


Larry Walker

Larry Walker

In the past HBCUs have been criticized for failing to support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally (LGBTQA) students, faculty and staff. A smaller number of HBCUs have LGBTQA organizations in comparison to Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Currently only 21% of HBCU’s have LGBTQA student organizations on campus (Campus Pride, 2013). The small percentage of organizations may reflect the ongoing struggle within the Black community to embrace people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity. Despite the struggles, several HBCUs have taken steps to ensure LGBTQA students and faculty members feel safe and welcomed.

In 2012, Bowie State University in Maryland became a trailblazer when they opened their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) center. The center was the first of its kind to be unveiled at an HBCU. HBCUs including North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University have also opened student centers designed to support students from the LGBTQA community.

Providing safe spaces for LGBTQA students is important considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide in comparison to students of the same age (2014). More specifically, Kirby (2011) found that before the age of eighteen, 36% of African-American lesbians in comparison to 21% of White lesbians attempted suicide.

HBCUs including Florida A & M University (FAMU) have continued to make progress towards creating an inclusive environment by adopting non-discriminatory language that protects students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, HBCU’s have partnered with organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) a national LGBTQ advocacy group, to provide professional development and leadership opportunities for students, faculty, school administrators and staff.

The HRC’s annual HBCU Leadership and Career Summit provides opportunities for students from HBCUs to come together to discuss a variety of issues. In addition, HBCUs including Morgan State University (MSU) have advisory boards, which sponsor various activities to raise campus awareness. MSU sponsors a symposium that welcomes students, faculty, school administers, researchers and activists throughout the United States. The symposium examines how issues relating to sexual orientation, gender expression and identity intersect with race and religion.

Although HBCUs have taken several steps toward creating inclusive environments, there are three significant areas they should strengthen:

  • Increase the number of LGBTQA Centers: HBCUs should reach out to school administrators at Bowie State, North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University to discuss the benefits of opening an LGBTQA center. Students need a safe place to meet and discuss issues within the LGBTQA community. Opening a center will raise the visibility of LGBTQA students on campus and allow invitations to open dialogue.
  • Adopt non-discriminatory language that protects students, faculty and staff regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity: Every HBCU should have very clear policies within their student handbook that protect the rights of every member of the campus community. The policies should be consistent with other colleges and universities that support LGBTQA students.
  • Increase efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment: HBCU administrators should work with residential life, campus police, faculty and staff to ensure students do not have to endure physical or verbal assaults. LGBTQA students, faculty members and staff should feel valued regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity. In addition, ensuring the entire campus community has undergone sensitivity training is critical to creating an inclusive environment.

Collectively, HBCUs can work with students, faculty and staff members to create an inclusive environment that supports individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.

Larry Walker is currently a Research Fellow in the School of Graduate Studies and Doctoral Candidate at Morgan State University in the Urban Educational Leadership program.


Recognizing the Critical Importance of AANAPISIs


By Kiran Ahuja


Higher education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy. In this decade, employment in jobs requiring higher education will grow more rapidly than employment in jobs that do not. Of the 30 fastest growing occupations, more than half require postsecondary education. Moreover, a person with a bachelor’s degree or higher makes $32,744 more annually than a person who does not complete high school. Higher education is now the clearest pathway into the middle class. Recognizing the profound differences a college degree can make, President Obama has set a goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

In order to accomplish the President’s goal, we must focus more attention on the low college attendance rate of underserved students in the U.S. Inaccurately perceived by many to be primarily doctors, engineers, and scientists, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are often absent from conversations about equity in education. However, in reality, many AAPIs face significant barriers within education, including limited English and low educational attainment. One in three AAPIs has limited English proficient and only 14.5 percent of Hmong, 13 percent of Laotian, and 18.1 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a bachelor’s degree or higher. As AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.—expected to more than double in number to 47 million by 2060, we must develop, replicate and scale best practices to better serve this student population.

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) play a critical role in fulfilling the President’s 2020 goal. By providing culturally relevant student services, curricular and academic program development, and resource and research opportunities, AANAPISIs pilot best practices ripe for replication and scale. Additionally, AANAPISIs serve 40 percent of all AAPI students, including hundreds of high need, low income learners. That is why supporting and promoting AANAPISIs is essential and why the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are taking concrete steps to remove barriers and support these programs and institutions.

In July, the Department of Education and the White House Initiative took a major step in this direction by clarifying that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and other minority serving institutions delineated under Part F of the Higher Education Act. Now, it is the Initiative’s hope that AANAPISIs will avail themselves of federal grants and other opportunities available to postsecondary institutions enrolling significant numbers of undergraduate minority students.

The Department’s website contains information on available grants and directions on how to apply for them. Also, the Initiative has collaborated with Grants.gov to offer free webinar training sessions, geared toward organizations with limited experience applying for government grants. For more information about online and regional training opportunities, please email us at WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov.

The Initiative recognizes AANAPISIs as one of the most promising means of supporting minority students, particularly AAPI students. We remain committed to helping AANAPISIs provide curricular development, research capacity and culturally relevant student services for all their students, many of whom are underserved.

Watch and share this animated video about AANAPISIs and post on your college website.


Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

A Penn CMSI Summer Intern Story


Yvette Booker

During a visit to Beloit College in February of this year, Marybeth Gasman met Daniel “Danny” Corral, a junior majoring in history and education. Danny recalls the first time he spoke with Marybeth: “I sat down with my lunch and was all set to just observe the discussion she was leading, but since there were only about 5 other people there, I had to participate in the conversation. She asked me to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ It was such an open-ended question and I wondered, who is this person and how am I supposed to answer?” Danny’s radiant smile and his warm presence as he answered her questions impressed Marybeth. Recalling that first encounter, she says: “I was so impressed by his ability to think on his feet and at that moment I could tell, he genuinely cared about the opportunities he was receiving in college.” After the luncheon, Marybeth learned about Danny’s budding interest in education and heard about his accomplishments on the Beloit campus from his supervisor.

Danny’s interest in education stems from a social studies teacher: “I had a social studies teacher that was really inspiring to me and I thought, I can teach and guide students through the school process as well.” As a McNair Scholar and teaching assistant for Beloit College’s introductory education course, Danny’s future aspirations include pursuing his PhD in education.

After hearing Marybeth’s guest lecture on Minority Serving Institutions and participating in her luncheon discussion, Danny became interested in learning more about MSIs. Marybeth discussed the Center and a possible student internship and Danny admitted he researched Dr. Gasman as soon as he left the luncheon and read more about HBCUs and HSIs. Danny decided then he would find a way to get to Philadelphia!

Danny arrived in June to begin his six-week internship. The work the Center does with HSIs was of major interest to Danny and he was able to work on projects related to Latino teachers, students’ bilingual programs, and authored a forthcoming report on HSIs. Under Marybeth’s mentorship, Danny produced a report focused on programs and services at emerging HSIs (those institutions with 15-24% Hispanic enrollment) and compared them to HSIs (those institutions with Hispanic enrollments well above 25%). In addition, Danny explored the steps and programs emerging HSIs are taking to become prominent HSIs and how they are currently serving the Hispanic populations at their institutions.

All work and no play, no way! In addition to his work at CMSI, Danny had plenty of time to enjoy the relaxed pace of Penn’s summer campus, hang out with new friends and explore Philadelphia. We are very proud of Danny’s accomplishments and we’re thrilled about the future of our summer internship program. Do you know any aspiring MSI researchers? Send them in the direction of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. We look forward to mentoring many more talented students in the upcoming years.

Yvette Booker is a Public Relations and Marketing Specialist at the Center of Minority Serving Institutions.