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UCA president orders removal of gay pride sign; reaction sharp

My dear dear friend’s school. This letter hurts.

Guess it’s still 2004 in some places

We’ve got to work sometimes to keep faculty, staff and students from tearing down our campus’s safe zone stickers. They indicate which offices have had formal training for handling LGBTQ issues. It’s entirely volunteer. Though the existence of such a thing is better than what it was like back when I was college aged.

To my knowledge our campus is not endorsing pride in anyway. In fact our longtime advocate for such things, our campus diversity officer has been unexpectedly kicked out of his office shortly ahead of pride month with no public explanation.

Anyway, just saying this is still the norm and not the exception in too many places I fear.

yikes! that sucks, @trashHeap.

ramon and a lot of professors have submitted an open letter to their university president. it’s REALLY GOOD. here is a link to the pdf on gdocs: Open Letter to President Davis Regarding Library Sign.pdf - Google Drive

here is the text

June 21, 2019
Dear President Davis:
We the undersigned, as out faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts and their allies, are writing in response to your censorship of the sign in front of Torreyson Library and your subsequent emails from June 18 and June 19. We present three areas of concern (numbered below) and include questions that we would like you to address openly. We conclude by suggesting how the UCA administration can take good-faith action, allocating money, space, time, and other resources to support the LGBTQ+ community.

  1. “Personal viewpoint”
    The politicization of existence itself is not a new issue for our community, but we still struggle to understand why you censored this specific message. The existence of a gay community and the non-chosen nature of sexual orientation are descriptive facts about the world. We cannot figure out how the factual statement on the sign is a “personal statement,” a “personal viewpoint,” or a “personal agenda…” (all from email dated 6/18/19). Could you please explain this?
  2. “Institutional voice”
    Torreyson’s physical sign sometimes hosts quotes from individuals, so that alone cannot have been the impetus for your decision to censor. Quotes from individuals are also present on other social media platforms, which presumably represent the “institutional voice” as well (e.g., “​the library is an official arm of UCA,” email dated 6/18/19​). Note, for example, that Torreyson Library’s Instagram contains a quote attributed to the Honorable Shirley Chisholm, posted during Black History Month last year (dated 2/22/18). You did not choose to censor it. Why not? While we would not advocate expanding censorship, we expect full consistency in the application of the policy you outline in your email.
    As social justice scholarship teaches us, it is the ​impact​ of your decision that matters, rather than ​intent​. ​Focusing on intent, as author Jamie Utt has noted, changes the focus of the conversation when “in the end, what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?” (​https://everydayfeminism.com/2013/07/intentions
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-dont-really-matter/​). It is clear that the university has not censored other quotations from public figures, and the decision to censor this specific quotation has harmed the LGBTQ+ community at UCA.
3. Concern for Minors
The email dated 6/18/19 clearly states that “timing of the sign in the summer also was considered” due to “the hundreds of minors that are on campus during the summer.” The only possible interpretation of this claim is that the contents of the sign (perhaps the word “gay”) is threatening or harmful to minors. Not only does this sentiment erase the experience of “minors” and prospective students who are themselves LGBTQ+ or who have LGBTQ+ parents, it is also simply homophobic on its face.
Although we do not know the substance of the original complaint, or the relationship between the complaint and the presence of youth on campus, it is not only possible but imperative to connect this email’s language to existing scholarship. Academics have studied and addressed the tensions between heteronormative educational systems, LGBTQ+ concerns, and social constructions of children and adolescents.
The text of the sign is not inappropriate for any audience. It does not include profanity, hate speech, or description of sexual activity. The sign used the word ​gay​ in the context of positive recognition of a marginalized sexual orientation. This word in combination with your reference to “minors…on campus” reflects a long history of fear that LGBTQ+ adults and children should not be in the same place for a litany of “reasons” that are not grounded in facts about gender and sexual identity, such as: LGTBQ+ ​adults ​are predatory; knowledge about gender and sexual diversity will turn kids gay or transgender; or interactions with LGBTQ+ ​adults​ will expose children to precocious knowledge about sex (Allan et al., 2008; DePalma & Atkinson, 2006; Mayo, 2004; Robinson, 2013). The legacy of this fear shapes operations in K-12 schools and universities, where support for LGBTQ+ students, parents, and employees continues to be professionally risky for school personnel (Clark, 2010; Macgillivray, 2004; Schmidt et al, 2012).
Although UCA has taken important steps such as designating a number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, acknowledging the Gay-Straight Alliance, PRISM, and creating Pride Month displays, all campus personnel and students navigate social stigma when we make decisions about LGBTQ+ concerns. This is not because
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UCA culture is notably more hostile than peer campuses. This is how LGBTQ+ stigma functions in institutions: it raises nagging questions about whether or not a choice to explicitly and visibly support queer students and colleagues will be valued and supported. The easier choice is always to privilege mainstream heteronormative values, but that choice perpetuates cycles of harm.
In this situation, the university has been caught in the trap of validating stigma and fear. Someone unknown to us raised the possibility that the Lady Gaga quote might be controversial, and university leaders took the bait and jumped into action to quiet the agitators. As an educational and intellectual leader, UCA must be purposeful about considering systems of power and privilege when facing situations, such as this sign, where a vocal minority claims that positive messaging about LGBTQ+ identity is something shameful. Going forward, we must set a higher standard for putting our diversity policy into action. We must model what it means to recognize, respect, and value differences that lie at the foundations of community and pride.
Let us be clear: inclusivity and pride are matters of life and death for some of our students. We teach LGBTQ+ students who have experienced homelessness as minors due to the rejection and hatred of their biological families. We have walked to counseling with suicidal students who are struggling in a campus environment where they feel alone, unwelcome, and not entirely free to live and learn authentically without harassment, shaming, or institutional silencing.
Making It Right
We appreciate your general statements of support for the diversity LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty add to the campus community. Unfortunately, such statements–from our own university where we contribute our labor and service–ring hollow when couched in the context of an act of erasure and censorship of our pride in our history and resilience as a community. Such statements also reflect our historical experience with the UCA administration’s attitudes and actions regarding LGBTQ+ issues on campus.
Diversity and inclusivity on campus should be more than buzzwords at UCA. Beyond valuing diversity in the abstract, we invite you to demonstrate your support of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff in more concrete and public ways, such as:
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  • Designating a permanent, visible, staffed, and institutionally-recognized space on campus for LGBTQ+ community building, programming, and educational resources.
  • Recruiting more out LGBTQ+ faculty and supporting existing faculty’s efforts to offer a variety of courses inclusive of LGBTQ+ studies content.
  • Increasing funding for initiatives such as Institutional Diversity Grants and the Academic Bridge Connection Program to enhance the recruitment and retention of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff.
  • More publicly and consistently recognizing Pride Month and Out Days with annual, open, and well-promoted campus programming. We suggest building on the past examples of LGBTQ+ Movie Nights, Pride Walks, Back to School Mixers, and other activities and events initiated by the Counseling Center and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion before your tenure as President, which you referenced in your second email (6/19/19) to the campus community. It is very important to note here that despite pushback from faculty, the institutional practice has been to only advertise LGBTQ+ events and mixers to select individuals who have self-identified, which means that those who are new to our community or not out (precisely the people who could benefit most) do not know about them. Not only does this exclude participation, but it feels very much like the institution is ashamed of its LGBTQ+ community and willing to support it only as long as its existence remains in the closet.
  • Completing the free self-assessment tool provided by the national Campus Pride Index with a commitment to making UCA a safer and more friendly place for our community.
  • Working with the Office of University Training to make UCA’s orientation programs for faculty, staff, and students more inclusive of LGBTQ+ issues and needs. This also includes you and your staff participating in workshops and events to educate yourself about these issues.
  • Expanding health services and benefits for students, faculty, and staff to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly the needs of the transgender and gender nonconforming communities.
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There is no better time than now to implement the UCA Diversity Strategic Plan “to (i) promote and maintain a diverse student, faculty, and staff population and (ii) foster an environment of inclusion and diversity,” including sexual orientation and gender identity, “within the broader educational mission of the university” (published 8/7/17 and retrieved from ​https://uca.edu/diversity/institutional-diversity/​ on 6/19/19).
We offer these suggestions in good faith, knowing that UCA can become an example of regional excellence in inclusion that is more welcoming for the LGBTQ+ community. This more inclusive and more excellent UCA of the future will need to be led by an administration that truly values the diversity of the human endeavor and experience for the enrichment it brings to learning environments and outcomes for our students.
Sincerely,
The Undersigned Faculty in the College of Liberal Arts
Ramón Escamilla, Ph.D. [gay]
Associate Professor, Linguistics
Department of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures
K. Adele Okoli, Ph.D. [bi]
Assistant Professor, French
Department of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures
Melissa Smith, Ph.D. [ally]
Associate Professor, English Education Department of English
Zach Smith, Ph.D. [ally]
Assistant Professor, Asian History Department of History
Kristen Epps, Ph.D. [ally]
Associate Professor, American History Department of History
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Hillary R. Anderson, Ph.D. [lesbian] Assistant Professor, American History Department of History
Alana Reid, Ph.D. [lesbian]
Associate Professor, Spanish
Department of Languages, Linguistics, Literature, and Cultures
Jennifer Patterson Parrack, Ph.D. [ally]
Associate Professor, Spanish
Department of Languages, Linguistics, Literature, and Cultures
Sharon E. Mason, Ph.D. [ally] Assistant Professor, Philosophy Department of Philosophy & Religion
Vaughn Scribner, Ph.D. [ally] Assistant Professor, American History Department of History
Kim Little, Ph.D. [ally] Lecturer II Department of History
Michael K. Rosenow, Ph.D. [ally] Associate Professor, American History Department of History
Heather E. Yates, Ph.D. [ally] Assistant Professor, American Politics Department of Political Science
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Sonia Toudji, Ph.D. [ally]
Associate Professor, American History Department of History
Roger Pauly, Ph.D. [ally] Associate Professor, World History Department of History
Alejandro González Landeros, Ph.D. [ally]
Assistant Professor, Spanish
Department of Languages, Linguistics, Literature and Cultures
Clayton Crockett, Ph.D. [ally] Professor, Religious Studies Department of Philosophy and Religion
Story Matkin-Rawn, Ph.D. [ally] Associate Professor, U.S. History Department of History
David Welky, Ph.D. [ally] Professor, U.S. History Department of History
Kenneth Barnes, Ph.D. [ally] Professor of History Department of History
Sonya Sawyer Fritz, Ph.D. [ally] Associate Professor, English Department of English
Wendy Lucas, Ph.D. [ally] Professor of History Department of History
Mary Elizabeth Sullivan, Ph. D. [bi] Associate Professor, Political Science Department of Political Science
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Wayne Stengel, Ph.D. [ally] Professor of English Department of English
Taine Duncan, Ph.D. [cis-gender, ally, and bisexual] Associate Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Glenn Jellenik, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of English Department of English
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References
Allan, A., Atkinson, E., Brace, E., DePalma, R., & Hemingway, J. (2008). Speaking the unspeakable in forbidden places: Addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the primary school. ​Sex Education,​ 8(3), 315–328.
Clark, C. T. (2010). Preparing LGBTQ-allies and combating homophobia in a US teacher education program. ​Teaching and Teacher Education​, ​26​(3), 704-713.
DePalma, R., & Atkinson, E. (2006). The sound of silence: Talking about sexual orientation and schooling. ​Sex Education,​ 6(4), 333–349.
Macgillivray, I. (2004). ​Sexual orientation & School policy: A practical guide for teachers, administrators, and community activists.​ Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Mayo, C. (2004). ​Disputing the subject of sex: Sexuality and public school controversies. L​ anham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Robinson, K. H. (2013). ​Innocence, knowledge and the construction of childhood: The contradictory nature of sexuality and censorship in children’s contemporary lives​. New York: Routledge.
Schmidt, S. J., Chang, S., Carolan-Silva, A., Lockhart, J., & Anagnostopoulos, D. (2012). Recognition, responsibility, and risk: Pre-service teachers’ framing and reframing of lesbian, gay, and bisexual social justice issues. ​Teaching and Teacher Education,​ 28, 1175–1184.
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