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Thu June 14, 2012
Bowie State Boasts First Black LGBT Student Center
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, it isn't always easy to find flattering looks in plus sizes. Lisa Dolan's had enough of that and started making her own and now she's got a new reality show to let other women know how to flatter their figures at any size. We hear from the star of the new TLC reality show "Big Brooklyn Style" in just a few minutes.
But, first, if you visit most college campuses, you'll probably find places for students to hang out, a student union or resource center. Often, there are special places set aside for kids of particular backgrounds, especially members of minority groups.
Earlier this year, Bowie State University in Maryland opened the doors to its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexed and Allies Resource Center. Bowie State is believed to be the first historically black college or university or HBCU to open this kind of resource center, according to the LGBT advocacy group human rights campaign.
Here to tell us more about the resource center is Professor Adrian Krishnasamy. He is an assistant professor of communications at Bowie State University and director of the LGBTQIA Resource Center.
Also with us, Melanie Carr. She's a recent graduate of Bowie State and a committee member at the center.
Welcome to you both. Thank you for coming.
ADRIAN KRISHNASAMY: Thank you for having us.
MELANIE CARR: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: And, of course, this is LGBT Pride Month, so we thought this would be an especially good time to talk about this first of its kind center. So, professor, how did the idea get started? How long has this been in the works?
KRISHNASAMY: Well, actually, when I started working (unintelligible) started in 2007 and I was introduced to this group and there were about five or six of us. And we were talking about great ideas and great things about the center and how we should open it and when we should open it and things of that sort.
So, throughout the years, it started falling apart and, because of money and a lot of resources, but we had a solid backing up from the high administration and a very strong student body and they have been very supportive about our measures towards that. So, ever since then, it had been an ongoing effort.
MARTIN: What was the hold-up? Was it money? Finding a space?
KRISHNASAMY: It was the - finding a space and money, of course. So, some time last year, we had one of our faculty members - she said, oh, the University of Maryland College Park has got some furniture they're going to donate and we were all excited about it, but we didn't have transportation. So we had to find some money for that and, finally, the high administration provided some funds for us to get it.
MARTIN: You know, I've got to tell you - forgive me. I'm not trying to be argumentative here, but I find it very hard to believe that somebody couldn't find some furniture and a truck. So is that really the issue?
KRISHNASAMY: That is really the issue. Yes.
MARTIN: Melanie, what about you? Tell me your experience of this and why did you feel it was important?
CARR: Well, I feel the reason why there should be, like, a LGBT resource center is because it will provide students a safe space where they can come together and be able to express themselves, not just within the LGBT community, but also throughout the entire Bowie State community.
MARTIN: Why do you think that it's taken so long to get a center like this on an HBCU campus? That means historically black college and university. I mean, why do you think?
CARR: Well, I feel as though that HBCUs just in general, they've always been highly conservative and Christian principle-based institutions.
MARTIN: Yeah. In fact, while some of these institutions actually started out as seminaries or as...
MARTIN: ...divinity schools, for example. So you think that that kind of infuses the culture, even if it is no longer the case, even if the institutions are primarily secular now?
CARR: Oh, yes. Even though, you know, most HBCUs are now - you know, they're considered like public institutions, there's still, like, a high level of Christianity that is still expressed freely throughout faculty and staff members and even certain student groups. But I believe, with Obama finally coming out and supporting gay marriage, that it's definitely changed the overall dynamic of HBCUs' Christian environment and people are becoming more open-minded about how people identify themselves.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about Bowie State University's new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexed and Allies Resource Center. The center opened in April, making Bowie State the first historically black college or university to have a center of this kind, that according to the gay rights group human rights campaign.
My guests are Professor Adrian Krishnasamy. He's a professor at Bowie State and director of the center. Also with us, Melanie Carr. She's a recent graduate of Bowie State and she's a member of the resource center's committee.
Professor, talk a little bit more, if you would, about exactly what the resource center provides and why you think it's important.
KRISHNASAMY: This resource center is needed to address this homophobia on campus and to work to make the environment safe for all of the students and all the faculty, staff and pretty much anybody even in the Bowie community that's seeking some kind of a resource or some kind of help.
MARTIN: Give me an example of what exactly goes on there. I mean, are there discussion groups or is it just information, like a library? I mean, I guess what I'm asking is why do you feel a physical space is so important?
KRISHNASAMY: Well, a physical space is very important because, I mean there are books about gay, lesbian literature, I guess, in the library but not as much. We are just there to basically be representatives of that culture to say hey, you know, it's OK. And to kind of say I can identify with this person, you know, how did you come out? Sort of sitting in that space and sort of sharing that, I think that is the biggest experience of it as of all.
We started in HIV testing deal. I'm a certified tester and I wouldn't be surprised a lot of students really how the disease is actually transmitted. So those other little things, little conversations that we get into.
MARTIN: What feedback have you gotten?
KRISHNASAMY: I didn't have very much trouble. We had a very collaborative effort in this and it just seemed like a normal process.
MARTIN: So there was no drama?
KRISHNASAMY: No drama.
MARTIN: No drama at all?
KRISHNASAMY: I was not going to allow it anyway.
MARTIN: But, well Melanie, I wonder whether the experience reflects perhaps that there might either be misconceptions about the openness of the broader African-American community toward LGBT people, or is it you think maybe just that college campus people are supposed to be opened to new ideas?
CARR: I feel as though yes, it's been a very smooth transition as far as getting the resource center established. The student body, they've been highly supportive of seeing the resource center up and running.
MARTIN: What's been most important about it to you?
CARR: Well, for me it's about seeing LGBT students become empowered and to vocalize being part of the BSU collegiate collective experience. So I think that's the most important thing for me is just empowering the students so that they can be able to really express themselves.
Melanie, final question to you. You're a recent graduate, as I understand it, and the center is just now up and running and I just wonder whether you think it would've made a difference to your experience at Bowie State if the center had been up earlier.
I would think so. I would definitely say yes. I mean I didn't start - like my first, you know, first college experience at Bowie I was a transfer student. I feel as though if the center was there when I first began like my reticulation at Bowie State University, I would've had a much more easier transitioning into the BSU community and I wouldn't have felt so isolated when I first started there. So I'm really happy that the center is there. I know that it's a wonderful place for the students to really come together again, building relationships and just being able to express themselves about the different experiences and it's really, a really therapeutic experience where you're able to share your experiences with other people because they're able to identify with that.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations on the recent graduation, by the way. I should've started their.
CARR: Oh, thank you so much.
MARTIN: Melanie Carr is a recent graduate of Bowie State University. She's a committee member of the university's LGBTQIA Resource Center. She was kind enough to join us here in Washington, D.C., along with Professor Adrian Krishnasamy. He is an assistant professor of communications at Bowie State. He is the director of the resource center. He is also here in Washington.
Thank you both so much for coming in.
CARR: Thank you so much.
KRISHNASAMY: Thank you so much for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.