Veronica Garabelli and Frances Correa
Contributing Writer and Multimedia Editor
Undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members urged VCU’s administration Tuesday to firmly reject Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s request that public universities rescind their policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Thousands of people attended forums that VCU held on its Monroe Park and MCV campuses to discuss the issue. An additional forum was held on the Monroe Park campus after the Commons Theater was filled to capacity.
Julie Pence, a sophomore, said she was happy VCU held the forums and that students had organized a rally in support of diversity and equal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation. But she wanted VCU administrators to go a step further in responding to Cuccinelli’s advice.
“I want VCU to make a statement and be bold,” Pence said as the crowd cheered.
Deirdre Condit, an associate professor of political science, also urged the university’s administration to defy the attorney general’s recommendation. She said it’s a matter of academic freedom.
“If we stop doing our jobs as an institution, it affects all of us who do research in these areas and who teach in these areas,” Condit said. “I just think it’s really important for the university to take a position and say, ‘No, we’re not going there.’ ”
William Oglesby, assistant professor in mass communications, discussed how proud he was to see his students get involved in the political process and say “yes we can,” during last presidential election. “Now I think it’s time to say,forcefully and unambiguously, no we wont,” Oglesby said.
Last week, Cuccinelli sent a letter advising the state’s public colleges and universities to repeal policies that forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. He said the schools do not have authority from the General Assembly to adopt such policies.
Like many schools, VCU prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as race, ethnicity, sex, religion, color, creed, disability, marital status and age.
In a letter to faculty and staff on Tuesday evening, Provost Stephen D. Gottfredson stated that VCU’s policy on nondiscrimination would stand until and unless it was altered by the university’s Board of Visitors.
At the forum, Gottfredson said he was not authorized to make a formal statement on the matter, because Cuccinelli’s letter was addressed to the Board of Visitors. He suggested that the university’s governing board would back the current policy.
“I know the affirmations that they have made over the years,” Gottfredson said. “This is something that is not just strongly held by us–the faculty, staff, students and the administration of the university. It’s strongly held by the board as well.”
However, some students and faculty want VCU President Michael Rao to declare forcefully that the university would reject Cuccinelli’s advice.
“We don’t want you to tell the Board of Visitors to ignore the letter,” a student said at one of Tuesday’s forums. “We want a statement.”
Some students wanted VCU to respond to Cuccinelli the way Virginia Tech did–by immediately announcing it would continue its policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“We want to know that the administration is behind us and not just saying, ‘We’re maintaining our policies for now,’ because that could be in question,” said Jenny Walters, a sculpture and art education major.
“We want to know for sure what they’re thinking.”
Chris Burnside, adjunct faculty in the school of the arts, discussed the need for VCU to take a leading role in equal opportunities for the GLBT community, particularly in offering partner benefits.
Tarynn Witten, associate professor for The Center for the Study of Biological Complexity, said she has witnessed the effects of discimination towards transexuals, including her own students.”I know that at VCU I’ve suffered that kind of discrimination.” Witten said transexuals in Virginia do not feel safe. “You know the saying ‘Virginia is for lovers’ well really it should have been ‘Virginia is the right kind of lovers, the politically OK kind of lovers,” Witten said.
In his letter Tuesday evening, Gottfredson said the university had received hundreds of e-mails about the issue and planned to hold more forums in the near future. Students can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, he said.Pro