Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Belmont. "Progressive university." REALLY?

Early this month, after women's soccer coach Lisa Howe disclosed that she and her partner were expecting a baby, Belmont University forced her out. This is a coach that has a winning record over the course of her six seasons at the school, and last year she led the team to an Atlantic Sun conference title. According to USA Today, as a place that thrives on its connections with Nashville's music industry and has even hosted one of the 2008 presidential debates, "Belmont is seen as a progressive university that had been affiliated with Southern Baptists until it broke away in 2007, wanting to bring greater Christian diversity to its board of trustees." Progressive? Well, they just took a BIG step backwards! After hearing this news, I was livid. Admittedly I am a person with extremely liberal beliefs and an advocate for equal rights for all, but even if you're not, in today's culture, this should not be happening! Are we on our way back to racial segregation and pre-women's suffrage?

As Sports Illustrated puts it:
A good coach has lost her job because she's about to become a mother.
A good university has lost its reputation for the same reason.

Lisa Howe took the high road in all of this and, through a news release distributed by her attorney, gave thanks to all who have supported her and notes that this is an educational experience for all involved. She closed with "respectfully ask[ing] members of the media to turn their attention away from me and toward the broader issues at stake that affect so many people in the Belmont community--such as what it means to be a diverse Christian community and how we can support and respect each other despite our differences." So well said!

Mike Curb, a music industry executive, emeritus member of the board of trustees and most importantly, major Belmont donor, made bold statements on Howe's behalf, saying "Belmont has to decide whether they want to be a national recognized university--particularly with their school of music business--or they want to be a church." According to Curb, Belmont President Bob Fisher asked that he hold off on making any further statements to give him an opportunity to resolve these issues so that this type of injustice can never happen again. Curb promised that "if the matter is not resolved, I will continue speaking out about this the rest of my life." (Way to go, Mike!) Even though I am in disbelief over this, I was sort of in holding mode, waiting to see if Fisher would actually do anything to resolve the issues.

I'm finding it hard to remain in that "holding mode" after reading an article today in the Nashville Scene, in which Belmont students, faculty members and former job candidates suggest that Howe's treatment was not an isolated incident. Despite Belmont recently revising its student honor code to remove "homosexual activity" from the list of punishable offenses, a student-formed group Bridge Builders, which seeks to promote understanding between gay and straight students, has been repeatedly denied official student organization recognition by the university. Last year after finishing her doctoral work at Vanderbilt, published Shakespeare scholar Rebecca Chapman, who was very open in the interview process about having a same-sex partner and inquired about health benefits for their family, was offered a tenure-track position at Belmont that, after seeing the offer in writing, she happily accepted. A month later, she was notified that her contract was being changed from tenure-track to a one-year contract ending in termination at the school year's end. Even though she had passed on her other job opportunities and knew that she and her partner would barely be able to make rent, let alone keep the house they were in the process of buying, Chapman chose to resign instead of  "finish[ing] out a bogus contract under the scrutiny of an obviously unsupportive administration." She has previously not spoken out about her ordeal but due to a recurring pattern, silence is no longer an option.

So now that I've bombarded you with links and background on the story, I want to hear from you. How do you feel about all of this? Do you believe in equal rights for all? Should we be doing something to ensure injustices like this don't continue to happen? In response to a letter sent by the Tennessee Equality Project (a statewide organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community), the Metro Nashville City Council will get involved in the controversy by evaluating their relationship with Belmont University, including park leases Metro has with Belmont. Should we do something to show support for the city council as they do this evaluation?

With all of the recent media attention on hate, bullying and discrimination, is silence really an option? For me, the answer is a definite no.


  1. This outrages me! I can't believe they would do this! When is this world going to accept the way life is. It is what it is...hiding it, ignoring it, rebelling against that going to make it disappear???

  2. I absolutely LOVE this and could not agree more!! I've never been able to understand how someone can have such hatred towards a community of people for how they live their lives. And the fact that this is going on in 2010 is crazy. I love how Mike Curb and the members of the City Council have stood up against Belmont. I hope people really do pull back from supporting the school financially or however else, until the school seriously starts to change. Just like people are born black or white, man or woman they're also born gay or straight. You can't change who you are. Annnd I just commented like, a lot. Whoops. You're a great little writer Mrs. Watts! :)


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