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Students Protest

February 11th, 2010

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, thirty men’s basketball players, over 600 fans, and four administrators, were among those present at the John Carroll University men’s basketball game against Mount Union College. Other people in attendance were there for a different reason. They were there to take a stand.

Students protest an e-mail sent from the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J. by holding a sit-in at halftime of a men's basketball game. Photo by Taylor Horen.

At halftime four JCU students received awards for their commitment to service.  The audience applauded and watched as they left and another group boldly made their way onto center court. The protestors carried signs proclaiming, “Hate is not a JCU value” and began a sit-in to ensure that their message was heard.

Their message was that the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered community at JCU was worthy of protection. The students seated on center court were directly responding to an e-mail received the day before from JCU President the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J.

The e-mail, sent out on Feb. 2, stated, “I, [Niehoff] feel strongly that the John Carroll community would benefit from endorsing a strong community standards statement which callsfor fairness and equity in our treatment of GLBT members of the John Carroll community.”

What made students upset was the following paragraph that read, “Two weeks ago, I, [Niehoff] met with members of the Faculty Council Gender and Diversity Committee and shared with them the fact that I could not support the Faculty Council resolution calling for the expansion of John Carroll’s legally mandated non-discrimination statement to include sexual orientation.”

The e-mail addressed two documents. The first was a draft for a JCU community standards statement that Niehoff hopes to enact. The second was an addendum to the equal employment opportunity policy proposed by the faculty that Niehoff said he could not support.  According to Mark McCarthy, vice president for student affairs, the e-mail came as a response to faculty, telling them where Niehoff stood on their recommendation.

Protestor senior Andy Trares, said, “[We were upset by the] overall contradiction, and his ignoring the strong faculty support and the value of this community. For him to ignore that seemed offensive.”

The document currently states that JCU will not discriminate “based in employment opportunities or practices on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability or veteran status.

Many universities that include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy are required to by the state. Private institutions are given the option not to, but Ohio does not mandate it for public or private universities. The students protesting felt that this issue needed to be determined and enforced by the University.

Sophomore Andy Bryan-Ramón, protest participant and president of Allies, said, “We saw that [the protest] was our only choice, our only resource. We had the right momentum. After the slap of the e-mail we [felt] we had to act on this.”

The group of over 20 concerned students, not directly associated with Allies, organized their thoughts and decided to protest at the men’s basketball game because of who would be in the audience.

After their sit-in, the protestors, escorted out by police, were then ushered to the LSC conference room. The administrators present at the basketball game joined the concerned students to listen to their distress.

“[The conversation] was absolutely essential because the protestors had the ability to be heard and to be heard immediately,” said Lauren Bowen, associate academic vice president for academic programs and faculty diversity.

Bowen, McCarthy, Academic Vice President John Day and Dean of Students Sherri Crahen, were among the administrators present for the protest. They were originally in attendance to distribute the awards at halftime, but remained present to talk with the concerned students.

At the conversation following the protest Bryan-Ramón said, “I feel sorry for you guys [the administrators], because I don’t want you to feel like you’re attacking us because you’re on our side.”

Senior protestor Elizabeth Zunica, said, “We have a couple [of] different goals because we want to change the policy, but we [also] want to change the campus climate.”

On Feb. 7 students, faculty and administration filled the LSC conference room again to hear what Niehoff had to say and to share their sentiments.

Senior Maggie Antonelli read a statement prepared by the group. She said, “Changing this [equal employment opportunity] policy is an essential cornerstone in moving toward the collective, inclusive community this University claims to possess.  We will stand for nothing less.”

The meeting concluded with a promise from Niehoff to allow students to meet with the subcommittees: academic affairs and student affairs.

Niehoff said, “Conversations [like this] have happened without the protest just not with so many members.”

The debate will remain public. Trares said, “I’m hopeful that there will be an effort for a sustained change. Seeing all that energy gives me hope that even after I graduate in May these efforts will continue.”