About 50 Belmont students attended a sit-in outside Dr. Bob Fisher’s office to protest what they call, “blatant discrimination” against women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe.
“I want this to be visible solidarity,” said junior Christian ethics major Elli Whiteway. “We need to get this issue out of the closet.”
The unofficial LGBTQ student group, Belmont Bridge Builders, organized the sit-in as a peaceful way to voice their displeasure at the university’s dismissal of Howe, who left the university last week after she had told administrators and players that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a baby in May. Bridge Builders has also twice been denied in its effort to become an official student organization.
Unfortunately for the protesters, Fisher was out of town attending the annual meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in Louisville, Ky.
Despite Fisher’s absence, protesters carried on with their message that Belmont needs to become a place of true diversity and inclusion.
“They either need to change their mission statement or change their stance on LGBTQ groups,” senior Alexis Merte said. She said that the sit-in sends a message to the school that students don’t approve of Belmont’s policy on gay and lesbian faculty and staff.
“We want to be separated from this,” Merte said, echoing the views of other students.
“There are a lot of caring people at Belmont,” sophomore Caroline Nanson said. “We’re not going to turn you away.”
Protesters were also upset that students are subject to strong anti-discrimination rules that call for “toleration of differing opinions, attitudes and cultures and insistence on fair and just treatment for all individuals,” but that the school itself doesn’t hold itself to such a standard.
“I feel that it’s kind of two-sided that they expect us to respect each other … but are being hypocrites and doing what they tell us not to do,” Nanson said.
Following the sit-in, Fisher sent an e-mail to all students, faculty and staff asking them to email him their comments. In part, the email read:
“We support every individual’s right to share their opinion. I would ask that respect, patience and thoughtfulness drive our actions and conversations as a Belmont community now and in the coming days.”
The Belmont University Community Commitment of Individual Worth reads:
“The Belmont community is committed to the dignity and worth of every individual, recognizing that each person is unique with certain rights and responsibilities. Such respect for the individual calls for toleration of differing opinions, attitudes and cultures and insistence on fair and just treatment for all individuals
“As members of the Belmont community, students can expect reasonable action will be taken to ensure that their experience will be free from behaviors that compromise this commitment. Such behaviors include, but are not limited to, physical abuse, threats, intimidation (verbal or otherwise), harassment, hazing, coercion and/or other conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person.”