Spelman College will be the first HBCU in history to fund a chair in queer studies, and the prestigious institution is naming it after Audre Lorde, the Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet who taught us that the master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house, and that Black women caring for themselves is a revolutionary act of political warfare.
Billionaire philanthropist Jon Stryker will provide a matching gift of $2 million for the endowed chair, the college announced Tuesday.
“A chaired professorship in Queer Studies enables the College to build on one of its strengths and that is Spelman’s educational inclusiveness, spearheaded by the Women’s Research and Resource Center under the stellar direction of Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall,” Spelman’s President Mary Schmidt Campbell said. “…We are honored to name the chair after the literary luminary and fierce activist, Audre Lorde.”
Audre Lorde’s History With Spelman Runs Deep
Since 1995, Spelman has been the home of the Audre Lorde Papers, which have been open for scholars since 2009 in the College Archives and managed by the Women’s Research & Resource Center.
In 1976, civil rights activist and organizer Ruby Sales—in her temporary role as a history professor at Spelman—invited Lorde to speak on campus. “This was a historic moment from my vantage point as a young member of the English department because she was likely the first out Black lesbian to speak to students and faculty,” Guy-Sheftall wrote in the Feminist Wire in 2014. “Rather predictably, her visit met with some resistance when word circulated that she had spoken openly about sexuality matters.”
The Sister Outsider author would not return to the AUC campus until former Spelman President Johnnetta Betsch Cole invited her in 1988.
“At first, she resisted but finally, perhaps as much to end my persistent asking, agreed to visit the campus … this time she was warmly and properly received,” Cole wrote in the Feminist Wire. “In many ways, the work of the Women’s Center, founded in 1981 by Beverly [Guy-Sheftall], had been dealing head-on with gender and sexuality issues, so there was less hostility to Audre’s radical feminist politics.”
Jonathan Rollins and Beth Lorde Rollins, Lorde’s children, said their mother would be honored to have the endowed chair named after her.
“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,” they said in a joint statement. “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.”