The goal of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally (LGBTA) Center in the Alfonso Elder Student Union at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is to create a place where every student feels welcome. The center opened on April 9, making NCCU only the second HBCU in the nation to dedicate a center to the LGBT community, and the first HBCU in North Carolina to do so.
In addition, NCCU is the only HBCU in the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), an international nonprofit leadership development network dedicated to the elimination of racism and other forms of oppression. Through NCBI, NCCU provides training on cultural competency, welcoming diversity and increasing unity and inclusion.
The idea of the center was first introduced in 2010 by the Empowerment Committee, a collection of faculty, staff and students in the Department of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. The idea received the full support of then Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Kevin Rome. “He believed that the center was a tangible indication that every student matters equally at NCCU,” said Tia Marie Doxey, director of student life assessment. “His hope was that the center would grow into a powerful force that would lead to the appreciation and inclusion of all students at NCCU.”
According to Doxey, college campuses must be prepared to discuss gender identity and gender expression. “The student population is becoming more and more diverse,” said Doxey. “It needs to be a part of the curriculum, including gender-neutral language.”
A recent report, “The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” by Marybeth Gasman, professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that HBCUs have been slow to respond to the needs of LGBT communities. Gasman states that some HBCUs are known for having unsupportive climates for students identifying as LGBT.
Clayton Barrier, assistant ticket office manager, NCCU alumnus and co-advisor to COLORS (Creating Open Lives for Real Success), the student organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied students, staff, faculty and alumni, remembers a different time on the NCCU campus. “We’ve come a long way since 2004,” said Barrier. “I remember when if a male student gave another male student a complement, nice shirt or whatever, he would justify it by saying ‘no homo.’”
Over time, the climate at NCCU has become much more inclusive. “I believe we have to reach our hand as far as we can,” said NCCU sophomore Deatrin Sutton, president of COLORS. In April 2013, Sutton spearheaded LGBTQ week, which included two film showings, an open mic night, an awareness campaign and campus conversations.
Now NCCU has four organizations devoted to the LGBT community: COLORS, Polychromes for LGBT faculty and staff, DOMS, and OutLAW for LGBT faculty, staff and students within the NCCU School of Law. Each organization is open not only to those that identify as LGBT, but allies as well.
“It is not easy to be an ally; you have to be your authentic self,” said Doxey. “You have to be willing to interrupt prejudice and discrimination knowing that the same discrimination that the LGBT community faces, you may also encounter.”
Doxey provides Safe Zone training to those interested in becoming an ally. After completing Safe Zone training, allies receive a symbol to display on their office doors. “A person displaying this symbol will be understanding, supportive and trustworthy if a LGBTQQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex) student or employee needs help, advice or just someone to talk to,” said Doxey. To date, 10 percent of the faculty and staff have been trained as Safe Zone Allies. Doxey’s goal is to double that number by the end of the year.
But the struggle of the allies is minor, Doxey said, compared to that of the students who identify as LGBT. “If students can’t come to the classroom and be their authentic self, how can we give them hope to be successful?” Doxey said. “These students demonstrate what courage looks like every day.”
The new LGBTA Center serves as a clearing house of information and upon request provides Straight Talk classes and presentations. Both Sutton and Doxey recognize that full inclusion is still an uphill climb for the campus. To help the campus adjust to the new center, they are hosting Welcome Wednesdays. Each Wednesday during the summer months, the campus is invited to enjoy free pizza, music and games at the center.
“Support for the LGBT community is continuing to grow,” said Sutton. “I believe that each generation has some type of prejudice to overcome. This is ours.”