In October 2019, Spelman College announced a matching gift of up to $2 million from billionaire philanthropist Jon Stryker to create a chair in queer studies, the first of its kind at a historically black college or university (HBCU). The Atlanta school said the chair will be named after poet, writer, feminist, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde.
In just a year’s time, Spelman has been able to raise the matching funds to Stryker’s gift. Stryker, who is the founder of Arcus Foundation, a social justice and environmental charitable organization, will now provide the remaining $1.6 million of his $2 million gift, a release from Spelman stated.
“By supporting this chair, the goal is to engage and empower the next generation of LGBTQ advocates to create a better world,” architect and environmental activist Striker said in 2019 when he launched the queer chair initiative with a $400,000 donation.
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is America’s oldest private historically black liberal arts college for women, home to 2,100 students. The college’s chair for queer studies will be attached to Spelman’s comparative women’s studies program at the college’s Women’s Research and Resource Center. The creation of the chair is to show Spelman’s commitment to LGBTQ inclusion and education and to allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the study of sexuality and gender, the school said.
“The selection process for the chair will be determined by a faculty committee, including Comparative Women’s Studies faculty,” Spelman said in the release, adding that “Advisory Group members include two Queer Studies pioneering scholars who will continue to work with the Spelman team during the implementation process.”
Stryker named the chair for queer studies in honor of Lorde due to her contributions to the school and her commitment to issues of sexuality and race. Considered one of the leading feminist voices, Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. Born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants, she started writing when she was 12 and went ahead to write countless books and essays to explore many issues including racism, sexuality, feminism, identity and power dynamics in human relationships.
She has also won quite a number of accolades for her work, including being named the New York State Poet Laureate in 1991. Before her death in 1992, Lorde delivered multiple speeches at Spelman and donated her personal papers and other artifacts in 1995 to the Spelman Archives, a part of the college’s Women’s Research and Resource Center.
“Our mother was deeply committed to LGBTQ youth and believed passionately in the power of scholarship, which to her meant learning plus excellence,” Lorde’s children, Jonathan Rollins and Beth Lorde Rollins, said following the queer studies chair announcement in October 2019. “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.”