On Thursday, June 25, the UCA community arrived in the McCastlain Ballroom at 11 a.m. for a campus talk, which was organized to give faculty, staff and students the opportunity to share their feelings and ask questions about the recent removal of a sign from outside of Torreyson Library.
The sign, which was put up for pride month, said “Being Gay is Like Glitter. It Never Goes Away. - Lady Gaga.” It was taken down after President Davis requested its removal on June 12 after he received complaints about the nature of the quote. He said in the first of multiple emails sent out following the removal that it was “not okay for the university sign to be used to make a personal statement or advocate for a personal viewpoint.”
The campus talk, which lasted about two hours, included time for group discussion and a question-and-answer session with UCA President Houston Davis.
Upon entering the room, attendees found seats at several round tables with notecards and a cup of writing utensils in the middle of each one. With a turnout of over 200 people, more chairs were required to accommodate everyone.
Vice President for Student Services and Institutional Diversity, Ronnie Williams, opened the talk and Davis spoke directly after him.
“Diversity, as my mother would say, is a heavy lift. It’s a walk. We continue to walk together as a campus together,” Williams said to the crowd. “I believe that when we communicate openly, honestly and respectfully, that it brings about understanding. Understanding brings about trust, and so, as we work together to improve, as we work together to change, that’s what I hope we can accomplish today.”
When Davis approached the microphone, he first acknowledged the reason for the gathering and then went on to remind students that UCA is a safe and nurturing place for them.
“Even if decisions were driven by the best of intentions, the impact absolutely positively has caused some people in our family to feel like they are no longer valued, no longer supported, no longer safe at UCA,” Davis said, “Impact always trumps intentions, so that alone is worth taking the time for us to really explore this and have a conversation that leads to lots of actions going forward, not words.”
Director of the counseling center, Susan Sobel, and vice president of operations for student government association, Jamaal Lockings, opened the room for each table to discuss a few questions concerning how they feel about the sign removal and the overall campus environment regarding LGBTQ student’s safety, with their group.
For the next hour, tables both discussed among themselves and later took the opportunity to stand up and ask Davis questions.
Some attendees asked questions about why the sign was removed. Others asked about the type of pressures that Davis received to take it down. Some wanted clarification about a comment Davis had made in a previous email about the presence of minors being related to the removal. Assistant professor in public relations, Dylan McLemore, read aloud the policies that Davis cited as the reason for taking the quote down. Representatives from the library talked about how they felt. One faculty member wanted to read a short excerpt from something she had written about her feelings and asked for Davis to just listen to the things she was asking for and not respond.
“My current impression of the campus is this: Is the campus safe for myself and my LGBTQ family? No. Is it safer than other campuses? Arguably. But safer is not what we want or need. Safety and whether or not we are truly inclusive shouldn’t even have to be a thing we think about as members of the LGBTQ community. But it is,” she said.
Although a variety of opinions were expressed, many of those who spoke expressed a disapproval of the sign’s removal. However, when his turn came to speak, senior Hunter Tollett thanked Davis for taking the sign down and standing on policy. He received no audible response from Davis.
Director of Governmental Affairs and External Relations, Jeremy Gillam, who was also in attendance, had a similar opinion that he shared with the Echo, but not in the Ballroom.
“The university has to adhere to its policies,” Gillam said. “They have to be consistent.”
One person mentioned to the crowd that he felt like Davis should apologize. Director for the center for teaching excellence and associate professor of public relations, Amy Hawkins, said that he never entirely did.
“There was a lot of what we call bolstering, which is ‘look at all the good things we do,’ and very little what we call mortification, which is the clean apology, ‘I’m sorry that these actions have hurt you.’ full stop” Hawkins said. “I don’t think it accomplished a complete apology, but I think it accomplished a lot in terms of perspective.”
One graduate student spoke about the personal hurt she felt after seeing the sign come down. “You watch my deeds going forward. I’m really big on actions [being] more important than words,” Davis responded to her, joking with her that she would keep her eye on him.
Lockings later announced that SGA would be taking action by advocating for a faculty position that served as an LGBTQ liaison on campus. Hawkins was not surprised and expects more of this type of action. “There will be a lot of strategic and program initiatives that come out of this,” Hawkins said.
The campus talk was sponsored by the Office of the President, SGA, Staff and Faculty Senates, and the Division of Student Services.