On the morning of June 18, the UCA Office of the President sent out a campus-wide email detailing the administrative decision to remove a sign that was placed in front of Torreyson Library for Pride month.
The sign read, “Being gay is like glitter, it never goes away. – Lady Gaga”
The side of the sign facing the entrance to the library displayed the quote while the side facing Alumni Circle displayed the library’s hours.
Davis said he requested on June 12 the sign be taken down, citing reasons including the presence of minors on campus for summer camps and the university sign’s being used to “make a personal statement or advocate for a personal viewpoint.” He also mentioned receiving complaints about the sign prior to requesting its removal.
Since having taken the quote down due to the administrative request, the library said in a comment on its Facebook page that officials have decided to leave the sign blank for the remainder of the month. However, several handwritten post-it notes have appeared expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Many students, staff and faculty members have also taken to social media to voice their opinions about the sign removal on both the library Facebook page’s comments section and their own profiles.
Senior Ashley Hunter, posted on Facebook, “Just withdrew from all of my UCA classes. Don't want to support President Houston Davis after he suggested minors shouldn't be exposed to LGBTQ folks and that the university's view of 'diversity' means giving equal standing to folks that don't want people like me to exist.”
The former president of UCA’s student government association also took to social media to express disagreement with the removal of the sign.
President of Feminist Union, junior Briana Vongvilay, said despite growing up in a conservative household, she understood by 7th grade that “being gay wasn’t a choice and it was okay.”
Davis' email said he would be meeting with library personnel on June 18 later in the day “to hear their thoughts, concerns and suggestions.” Director of the library, Dean Covington, confirmed that they met from about 4-6 p.m.
“We do need to be mindful about the fact that those official platforms are not the places where we generally can allow individuals to put their own personal issues,” Davis said. “This really does get to the heart of freedom of speech versus institutional voice.”
He said that while there is not a specific policy regarding signs, the policy that the university does follow concerning advocacy issues and personal stances covers all university resources,
including the university emails and social media accounts.
Comments on the library’s Facebook page have seemingly disappeared as the number went from 32 to 11 in a matter of one or two days. Some comments were removed because of the use of profanity, but others that were taken down used no foul language.
“We as a university don’t usually get out there taking a lot of positions. Now, organizations and student groups absolutely do, along [with] a wide variety of political and social community issues,” Davis said. “It really is about utilizing the sign. And it calls into question that we probably need to look at our policy for how signs like that are used around campus.”
Later that night, on June 18, the UCA mascot appeared at a vacation bible school for a local church and Davis sent out another email addressing once again the use of resources.
“We have much work to do to better understand policies on inappropriate use of university resources,” Davis’ email reads.
According to the email, the athletics department spent the morning of June 19 developing an internal process, documentation, and request forms for external groups that includes explanation for the type of events that any mascots, logos and branding can be associated with.
Covington was unable to comment following the meeting with Davis because he was leaving campus for a conference.
Library personnel declined to comment in Covington’s absence.
The Echo has reached out to various students and student organizations for further comment.
On June 19, Davis sent out another email clarifying past statements.
“... Nothing about the communication yesterday was meant to imply that minors should not be exposed to the LGBTQ community. This is absolutely not how that was intended, but a great deal of feedback has made it clear that some interpretations led to that conclusion. We get numerous complaints in the summer about a host of issues because of the large number of minors on campus. Regardless of the subject matter, we do have to be mindful about all information and debate that typically is designed for students, faculty, and staff
I also want to address the conclusion that some have come to that, because of this event, UCA does not value, support, and protect our LGBTQ community. That is simply not true. The university offers numerous services, programs, and events in support of this community each year. The Counseling Center collaborates on projects regularly with the PRISM Alliance; provides programming during October, which is LGBT History Month; participates in the Campus Pride Walk and the Little Rock and Conway Pride Parades; offers a safe space to discuss gender and sexual affinity; and provides programs to departments to increase understanding of our LGBTQ community. In addition, our office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion has an LGBTQ+ Affinity Group that has been in place since 2015. The office hosts an annual lavender graduation dinner; a UCA Pride Walk; a PRISM Drag Show Reception for queens and attendees; and it offers transportation to the Little Rock Pride Fest, among other things. You will find me at many of these events, supporting our students and their programs.
Related to the above, I also want to speak for our leadership team and the attention that we pay to defending the importance of every activity and event in the prior paragraph. It probably does not come as a surprise to many of you that we receive a limited amount of inside and a great deal of outside criticism regarding those programs. While I find myself defending them on a predictable annual cycle, I am proud to advocate for all of these programs and services and will always. While I know not to take the criticism personally, my professional record and the record of my leadership team does not merit some of the names that are being hurled nor the label of anti-LGBTQ. Those UCA faculty and staff close to day-to-day administrative operations are vigilant in defending and supporting our LGBTQ community. Not only do we defend, but we also form a large portion of the core group of faculty and staff attendees and participants at these events…”