VCU’s Equality Meeting – Students Given a Chance, But Few Speak
VCU’s newest LGBT program, Equality VCU, held a meeting to help the community respond and express their concerns over the recent termination of former VCU Women’s Volley Ball Coach James Finley’s. Finley, who is openly gay, married, and has 3 children, claims he was the victim of anti-gay discrimination by the schools new Athletic Director.
The meeting was announced yesterday; social media and other networks were used to get people out to attend. About 75 people made it to the event.
The forum opened with words from Beverly Warren, VCU provost and VP for Academic Affairs.
“We said back in 2009, when we felt we needed a voice regarding diversity, that we were a community who has a core value that was centered in diversity.” Said Warren. “We do not discriminate on the basis of race or color or gender, or sexual orientation or political affiliation or veterans experience. We have a statement that affirms our commitment to nondiscrimination.”
Warren continually emphasized VCU’s commitment to diversity, and to exemplify this, she gave the floor to VCU’s Chief Diversity Officer, Wanda Mitchell. Mitchell’s position was created three months ago – three years after they realized they needed to create a voice for diversity.
Mitchell also stressed the university’s commitment to Diversity. “We want VCU to be a place where people of all backgrounds and experiences can live, work and learn. And we realize that this is true and that’s why we have a diversity statement and a diversity plan.”
Warren leads the group Equality VCU, formerly the school’s LGBT subcommittee. Warren said the term subcommittee was something they needed to address, and this new group was developed to serve an advisory and advocacy role for LGBT students and staff. “We are committed to our diversity statement and our nondiscrimination statement,” said Mitchell.
Durring her introduction, Warren clarified that the details of James Finley’s release were not going to be discussed. The administration has said, since the issue went public, that the school does not discuss employment issues as they are a matter of private record under federal law. She then opened the floor to questions.
The first question was asked by an unnamed male – presumably a student – beard-clad and clutching his backpack.
After solidifying the stance of the administration’s refusal to answer questions concerning Finley’s dismissal, he said “So this (event) isn’t to really answer questions, more so than to say ‘We here at VCU love everybody.’ Many of us came here to find out information about this – and I feel like this is kind of a waste of our time. And just VCU trying to make itself look better.”
Wanda said the student was entitled to his own opinion, but that this meeting was developed to give a chance for students and faculty to “make comments, express your feelings, and ask questions.” Mitchell clarified, “some questions we are able to answer, but if we can’t, we’ll say we cannot.”
The student replied: “If you’re not going to discuss what most people here feel is relevant, I’m just going to leave. Thank you for your time.” He picked up his bag and left.
The meeting carried on with comments from teachers and staff, very few students were in attendance.
Nina Pinder is in her first year at VCU; she transferred from a community college to major in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She described herself as a member of the LGBT community. “I didn’t feel like they took a very strong stand to find out what happened,” said Pinder about the meeting. “(If) they’re going to be with us to find out what happened, I’d like to see some actual stance.”
Pinder said she came to VCU because she was attracted to the open and accepting atmosphere the university promoted, but now she has some concerns. “If they find there was discrimination, how safe for students will it be to have opportunities opened up for us?”
Van Vox, a lesbian and 2011 Graduate of VCU’s Sociology program came to the meeting because she was worried to hear about discrimination happening at the school she loved. “To hear even a rumor that this happened is unacceptable.” She felt a mix of emotions when she heard the news. “it doesn’t (surprise me) because we’re in Virginia, but it does because when Gov. McDonnell and the Attorney General (made threats via letter when VCU included LGBT people in its nondiscrimination policy), VCU was on it. (They said), you can take your letter and keep it.” Said Vox, “so to not hear anything (after news got out), it’s just like, ‘Are you kidding me?”
Vox also wasn’t sure on how the university would address the issue, and she was worried about the limits on the conversation at the event. “I’d have more faith if they released a statement when it happened, and not waited a couple of days later and said, ‘You can come out and you can ask only certain questions that we’ll answer for you’… just because you have a diversity committee doesn’t mean you support equality.”
Very few students spoke at the event. Liz Canfield, assistant professor of gender, sexuality, and Women’s Studies, thought the media presence could have been part of the issue. “Student athletes have scholarships that depend on you being here; international students have a visa that requires them to be here.” But this concept of students being afraid to speak for fear of retaliation didn’t sit well with Canfield. “We have more work to do so that LGBTQI and their ally students feel comfortable calling out administration when something is fishy or something is wrong.”
Warren said the school’s internal investigation could take up to 45 days, and the results would be confidential, though Finley would be allowed to release them if he saw fit.
The beauty of this production is that this new resonance is allowed to develop on its own without drawing attention to itself.September 23, 2016
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