Jarrett responds to your question
Hi Inca: I copied your post and sent it to Jarrett, one of the co directors of the Equality Ride, asking him if he could respond. Here's his reply. kara
We have chosen to visit Spelman College as part of the 2008 Equality Ride for a variety of reasons. It should be noted, though, that there will be no direct action or civil disobedience there or at Morehouse College. Our plan is to peaceably engage our peers and focus on interaction and dialogue while in Atlanta. In addition to time on campus per the request of students, this may even happen within the context of a community service project. Hopefully the following ideas will clearly communicate our rationale.
First, in response to your post, I want to point out that simply discouraging harassment and discrimination does not make a school "gay-friendly" or a safe space for LGBT people and their allies. Achieving full inclusion and acceptance requires active affirmation and a bit more intention. Very often, there is a distinct chasm between policy and culture. I, for example, attended a private university in a progressive area that had very progressive policies, a school where the administration sanctioned a queer alliance. However, the fact is that not every student came from a family or town where those same values and practices were honored. Despite codified equality, my alma mater remains just as oppressive and unsafe as many of schools the Equality Ride has visited.
Our last stop this year is Simmons College of Kentucky, which, like Spelman, is also a faith-based historically black college. Simmons has one of the worst policies I have ever seen. Beyond condemning sexual and gender diversity, it goes on to express that families without a mother and a father figure are broken semblances of what a real family is. That rhetoric was not born of pen and paper or in a student handbook. It comes from history and doctrine, from the abuse of power coupled with an unfortunately prevalent ignorance. And, these sentiments are not unique to Simmons College. I can guarantee that we will find them on every campus we visit, including Spelman. Yes, it will be in varying degrees and manifestations, but that does not lessen our responsibility to go and work towards understanding.
Spelman College was founded as a Baptist seminary for women. As such, conservative dogma continues to have a strong influence on the campus and the mindsets of many in the student body. No institution or demographic is immune from prejudice. Therefore, conversations about diversity and justice cannot happen enough, for there is always progress to be made. This is true even in the absence of outright intolerance.
Conversely, some at Spelman have taken great strides to ensure that everyone feels welcome, and that is something we openly acknowledge at Soulforce Q. This year, we want to honor their efforts by adding to them. Much like Morehouse, Spelman has a legacy of being at the forefront of social change. In fact, ten years ago Mother Jones Magazine ranked it second on the top-ten list of activist schools. Indeed, their merit as a leader factored into our selection process. If the Equality Ride is to continue going where there is even a modicum of need, we will certainly find ourselves at other historically black establishments. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for those ventures, to build awareness, to find allies, and to set a precedent.
The Equality Ride began as a project that went to the worst of places and addressed the worst of policies. After two years, though, we have seen both the need to evolve and the value in doing so. No longer is our view of injustice so myopic that we would only go to a school where there is explicit discrimination. Moreover, at times, the most growth we see is within communities that have already taken forward steps. Last year we visited Calvin College, a school that does not have a policy and does have openly gay students. However, the impact of our conversations there was consistent with the rest of the route and just as many lives were changed. Calvin now has an active GSA and recently graduated its first openly transgender student.
My dream is that Spelman College will soon become a place where the diverse identities of all its students are uplifted not just protected. My dream is that Spelman College will one day celebrate Audre Lorde not only as a black woman who revolutionized feminism, but also as a proud lesbian who struggled against a homophobic society. My dream is that Spelman College will inspire other schools founded in the same traditions to erase their policies and champion those on the margins.
Our invitation to Spelman to host the Equality Ride called on the inclusive vision upon which it was founded. Students are beginning to answer that call with optimism and enthusiasm, and we have every faith that faculty and administration will follow, leading to a productive day on October 10, 2008.
2008 Equality Ride