First, kudos to the students (and some alumni) who protested the President's refusal to add sexual orientation to the school's employment nondiscrimination policy. They took the floor at halftime with dignity and grace before the second half started, singing "We are a gentle, angry people..." and holding signs for equality. They held their ground and, after some negotiation and with only token resistance, they left without incident before the clock noting the end of the halftime break sounded.
The incident was sparked by the President's message refusing to change the employment nondiscrimination policy in light of a faculty council resolution (and overwhelming faculty support) asking for the change. According to students writing on the activist Facebook page, the Board of Trustees met and no vote was taken on the resolution. The blog at the Cleveland Plain Dealer explains:
In his message earlier this week, [JCU President] Niehoff issued a lengthy explanation of his views that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should be welcomed and respected at the university. He stopped short of recommending that the policy be changed, however, instead offering a "community standards statement" as a supplement to the policy.
The extra statement explains that discrimination is wrong and that "the Roman Catholic doctrine teaches us that such offenses are especially egregious when directed against the more vulnerable and marginalized members of the Community."
The section of the statement that has set off some students and faculty is one that, just after saying that the university calls on everyone to respect one another, states that the university reminds "members" of "the traditional Catholic moral teaching that properly locates sexual activity within the relationship of a man and a woman united for life through marriage as husband and wife."
The community statement goes on to say that because of the "imprecise legal definition of the terms involved," among other reasons, the university thinks it is unwise to include gay and lesbian people in the nondiscrimination policy.
And yet, despite the statement and in response to the protest, the President has agreed to meet with the protesting students today. I have great respect for that, so the President gets kudos as well.
Also impressive were the other students attending the game (two of whom took the video posted on youtube; you can hear one ask the other holding the camera phone, "Are you getting this?"), who were interested and not ugly to the protesters; the police, who stayed calm, DIDN'T use tasers or undue force, reasoned with the protesters, and let the process play out appropriately, even comforting one emotional protester as she was escorted off the court; the coaches and administrators, who spoke thoughtfully and with great care with the protesters (at least, that is what it looked like); and the basketball players, who seemed calm as they warmed up, while taking care to avoid stepping on, hitting, or otherwise bothering the protesters, who were seated at mid-court.
The protesting students are handling this issue so well, recognizing the strengths in the President's statement while pointing to the necessity of an actual policy. They have set up a Facebook site and are consistently trying to get their message out. The Plain Dealer quotes 2 students, saying:
Natalie Terry, a senior from Albany, N.Y., majoring in religious studies and one of the students who protested at the basketball game, said students were glad to see Niehoff's views that all students should be welcomed and treated with respect.
But the students are passionate in working to change the nondiscrimination policy. Andy Trares, a senior from Toledo majoring in sociology, said students who want to change the policy are not giving up.
"We know what our goal is and we're not going to stop until we achieve that goal," Trares said. "A community standards statement is not acceptable. While we, of course, want an open and welcoming community on campus, we also need tangible things and things that are concrete, and this nondiscrimination policy is one of those things."
The students and the administrators also handled the news media well; look at the interviews in the story on the local Fox news. I would hope that students at other schools wanting to engage in advocacy would view this protest, media management, FB page, and the responses they are getting and take notes on how to work for change. I also hope administrators and law enforcement would also look at the serious and respectful tone of the JCU response and recognize lessons they could apply to contentious issues in their own backyards. Kudos to the JCU community!