June 6, 1930, New Orleans University and Straight College merged to form Dillard University, which elected to follow the practices of the two parent institutions in making no distinction as to race, religion or sex in the admission of students or in the selection of faculty. Today in 2007, Dillard University still strives for excellence and follows the same guiding principles. However, does that campus accept homosexuality?
Homosexuality on HBCU campuses has been taboo for so long that the beatings and degrading words said to homosexual students who choose to be out on campus and not in the closet has become a form of normality. Though Dillard University has a large amount of openly homosexual students on campus, homophobia which is a fear or dislike for homosexuality, degrading words and uncomfortable feelings still exists between the homosexual and heterosexual community.
According to the Black connection website, a few years ago a young African American man was beaten at Morehouse University in Atlanta because some other males students found out he was homosexual. According to Rev. Gail Bowman, Dillard University chaplain, the HRC (Human Right Campaign) sparked interest in this problem on HBCU campuses and started to reach out to HBCUs all over the world including Dillard University. Bowman said, “The human rights campaign started saying to students if you going to be gay and if you are going to be a lesbian you have to stand up for it.”
The acceptance and the abuse
A survey of 100 students revealed how many students perceive homosexuality. Approximately half of the students interviewed agreed that if they were to see a homosexual male couple walking and holding hands on campus they would say “not me who cares.” However, a large percentage stated that they would find it “disgusting” and a small percentage said they would “feel anger.” Ironically, when students answered the question about a female homosexual couple the answers changed. More than half said “that’s cute,” and the mass majority of that half were males. Additionally, the other half said it’s “not me who cares,” while three to five people said “that’s disgusting”.
According to J.L. Soco, an openly gay poet and author who attended Dillard University from 2002 to 2004, some students and faculty were homophobic, but she credits that to ignorance. Christy Malbrew, the former Miss Dillard University and graduate of Dillard University’s class of 2006 said homosexuals were accepted sometimes and treated fairly, however they were sometimes teased and mocked.
According to Zuri-Starr Turner, a 2006 graduate of Dillard University and former president of One People, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Alliance (LGBT) on campus, she had deal with ignorant and close-minded faculty and students . A lot of people who came from small towns were not very accepting of her relationship on campus at that time.
Turner said, “We were not able to show public affection or kissing. They really didn’t like us sitting on the benches together too closely.”
Latrisha Bernard, a junior sociology/criminal justice major and also an open lesbian on campus said, “I am treated pretty fairly. No one has ever just come and hit me over the head or anything. If you’re sure and confident about you sexuality people will leave you alone.”
The change in the campus and the church
Dillard University has been called a gay friendly campus because of the number of openly gay students.
Bowman started working at Dillard University in 1998 and according to her, the campus has come a long way with accepting homosexuality. Bowman said that when she first came to Dillard University, she was warned by the vice president of student affairs that there had been an incident where some religious students beat a gay student.
“They considered homosexuality a demon possession and thought they could rid him of that with physical force and put him in the hospital,” she said.
According to Bowman, the students in the ministry during her second year at Dillard University asked her to condemn homosexuality as a demon possession from the pulpit and that’s where the problems started.
“I couldn’t go there and then one by one people start dropping out,” said Bowman.
As a result, her initial large number of supporters began to dwindle. “At one point, I thought it was would disappear completely and then it stabilized. It was a very awful thing,” she said.
Bianca Buchman, a senior mass communications major from Jackson, Miss. said, “I believe that Dillard University is a gay friendly campus. I feel like the homosexuals on this campus feel free to show affection.”
However, even though some consider Dillard’s campus as friendly, others feel that they must hide and practice their sexual orientation behind closed doors.
Buchman said, “I definitely think there are women and men on the down low on campus and that is where a lot of the discomfort comes from. I don’t like the ones that try to hide it and front.”
The substantial amount of homosexual students on Dillard’s campus not only affects the students but the faculty as well. Though professors have the right of the First Amendment to express their opinion, do they have a right to include this opinion in there lectures?
Buchman said, “I have heard a male teacher make a comment like I can’t stand these fags. And I think it is very unprofessional. I think the teacher got too comfortable with students.”
Aaron Smith, a 2006 Dillard University graduate said, “I had a few professors who treated homosexual students differently. Some treated them better than those who were heterosexual; other did seem to treat them worse. The majority of my professors treated everyone equal in my opinion though.”
According to Allan P. Durocher, the chair of department of philosophy and religion, he has never personally witnessed a student being harassed because of sexual preference. However, he did witness an uncomfortable moment in class.
“In philosophy, my class and I were talking about being true to one’s self and the topic of homosexuality came up in the text book and one student said, ‘I can’t deal with this topic and I have to leave,'” said Durocher. He said that he has to deal with knowing that some of his students were gay.
According to an article on Keith Boykin’s website about dealing with homosexuality at a HBCU campus Jon-William Patterson, a graduate from Paine College said, “some faculty and students are very homophobic and the manifestation of homophobia is prevalent in some classroom discussions and lectures. Outside of the classroom, some students blatantly make anti-gay and homophobic remarks.”
Furthermore Patterson said “one of the greatest rewards of my experience is observing students coming out and speaking up against homophobia and intolerance at historically black colleges and universities and other institutions of higher learning. That is a powerful thing because for long the rights and treatment of black LGBT students at historically black colleges and universities have not been given adequate attention.”
According to Bowman, coming out at Dillard’s campus was neither easy nor fun. She stated that Human Rights activists got interested in this issue which affects HBCU campuses. They approached Dr. Lomax, the previous president of Dillard University, and began to work with the university.
Bowman stated, “We have gotten past the painful step of not listening to each other and condemning each other.” The school has grown past most of the disrespect in the classroom and on campus.
Another question asked during the survey was, “When someone calls a homosexual a faggot, dyke, carpet muncher or sissy do you, a) laugh, b) ignore the statement, c) don’t hear it often, d) are the one who often says these comments, or e) take up for the homosexual.
According to the survey, 35 students said they are the ones saying the comment, 30 said they would take up for the homosexual and the rest said they don’t hear it often. The results were close. However, the percentage of students making the derogatory comments would most likely have been higher about six to seven years ago. Dillard University and other HBCU’s have came along way with the acceptance of homosexuality on campus, but it is still an issue that is relevant and must be worked on.