This past summer, Howard University was ranked the number one most inclusive HBCU for LGBTQ+ students by Best Colleges. This national distinction is one that Howard prides itself in, as the University is home to a large number of LGBTQ+ students. However, despite this title of inclusivity, many LGBTQ+ students at Howard have felt underrepresented in student government, leading student organizations to propose a committee be established to address this issue.
Last week, the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) Senate voted not to pass a referendum that would have established a permanent committee to address matters pertaining to LGBTQ+ community at Howard, known as the Lavender Committee.
The referendum was introduced by the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality (CASCADE) Vice President of External Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences HUSA Senator Jayda Peets. Peets sought for the Lavender Committee to be constitutionally protected. The committee would work to maintain oversight of the LGBTQ+ community on campus, create legislation and meet monthly with the Office of Intercultural Affairs and LGBTQ+ Resource Center, according to HUSA Senate documents.
However, in a 13 to 6 vote on Sept. 21, the referendum was rejected, meaning that Howard University students will not have the option to vote on this referendum, or any other referendum, this fall, leaving many to feel disappointed.
“I felt very saddened and confused by the rejection of the committee. It was a direct slap in the face to the community that contributes so much to Howard culture and Black culture at large. When confronted with opinions that oppose my own views, I try to come up with arguments that could lead me to better understanding of other perspectives. However, in regards to the Senate’s decision, I have heard no valid justification for denying queer Howard students this opportunity to have their voices amplified,” Chandler Pope, sophomore TV and film major, said.
Arguments, such as that of HUSA Senate Student Advocacy Committee Chairwoman Hassana Baldé, suggested that establishing the Lavender Committee would create a “hierarchy of representation.” Other senators suggested that establishing the committee would create a precedent for any marginalized group to propose a committee be created for them.
“We don’t want, as a senate, to set the stage for groups of marginalized communities on campus to be more important than others. I completely understand that every group needs representation, and specifically the LGBTQIA+ community, that’s why I suggest as a student advocacy committee that we do more to show that we are there for them, to support them and represent them,” Baldé said. The chairwoman then suggested that, instead, a member of CASCADE become a non-voting member of the student advocacy committee.
In both instances, these arguments are mere hypotheticals. If the creation of the Lavender Committee would set a precedent and cause numerous other marginalized groups to propose a committee in the HUSA Senate, then that would imply that the advocacy committee is not doing enough to ensure that marginalized students feel their voices are not only heard, but reflected in policy. By establishing a permanent committee, HUSA Senate would show how serious they are in creating safe, but most importantly, long-lasting spaces where LGBTQ+ students feel represented.
“Setting that precedent actually is a positive thing, because it encourages other marginalized communities to speak up at Howard University,” Peets said. “Being an HBCU, many of us are marginalized. The subset groups in the Black community, I encourage them to come to the Senate and try to advocate for their voices heard more often. If that’s the precedent, that this one marginalized group is asking for representation, then I say by all means set that precedent.”
This year, I have spent many hours in The Hilltop office, looking through The Hilltop archives reading articles that span from the 1960’s to our most recent collections. These archives hold first hand accounts of Howard University’s rich history. From protests, elections, famous speeches and visits– Howard University students have always been compelled to advocate for what they believe in.
In 2019, Howard University became the first HBCU to recognize LGBTQ students in its constitution and set aside money for the improvement of LGBTQ+ students at the university. This was done with a unanimous vote from HUSA senators.
While the result of last week’s HUSA Senate vote on establishing the Lavender Committee as a permanent yearly committee may have been disappointing, I believe that students should continue to engage in student government and hold this University’s elected students accountable.
Following last week’s vote, Peets shared that she plans to reintroduce the referendum in the spring.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee