Chancellor Bill Snyder is encouraging students to report complaints of
discrimination based on sexual orientation to the Diversity Resources and
Educational Services office.
However, at least one student claims that this office is not handling their
cases of sexual orientation discrimination.
When the GSA and SGA introduced and passed a bill to include the words
"sexual orientation" in UT's non-discrimination clause, the senators felt
it necessary to include these words in order for students, faculty and
staff to be protected.
However, Snyder vetoed the bill on the basis that this class of people were
already protected and the DRES office already handles complaints of all
types of discrimination.
It would have been acceptable to veto the bill if the DRES office was doing
its job when it comes to handling complaints of sexual orientation
discrimination, but one student said that this office is not handling the
cases in an appropriate manner.
When a student reported a teacher who made derogatory remarks about sexual
orientation to the DRES office, the reply she says she received from the
office was "that's just the way things are in the South and there is
nothing that can be done."
If this is the reply from the office, whose sole responsibility is to
handle all cases of discrimination, there is an obvious problem that could
be easily corrected with the signing of the bill to include the words
"sexual orientation" in UT's non-discrimination clause.
Since the DRES office does not seem to be concerned with cases of sexual
orientation discrimination, or at least in this particular case, the
university cannot effectively or officially dispute cases of this
Anyone who is discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation are at a
dead end when trying to fight for their rights on this campus. Not only
have the chancellor and vice chancellor sent a message to the UT community
that the rights of homosexuals should not be specifically protected,
but the DRES seems to be sending the same message with their lack of
actions in this particular case.
After Snyder did not sign the bill to protect the rights of homosexuals, he
directed people with complaints to go to an office that, in one student's
case, brushed discrimination and inappropriate behavior of a professor
under the rug.
At one time, Snyder promoted differences and seemed to welcome them on our
campus, but this is not the case now. In a brochure titled Toward a
Climate for Enhancing Diversity on the UTK Campus, he wrote the
following passionate words: "All people shall be treated with respect,
understanding, caring and fairness," and he encourages his staff to "help
people deal with change, recognizing that whether change seems either too
slow or too fast, it must come, and it will come."
"It must come, and it will come." When is this recognition of change coming
-- when activists are marching through Andy Holt Tower or when accepting,
open-minded, alumni are refusing to give to the university until the
chancellor signs the bill? The time is now. There are too many people on
our campus who are affected by the sexual orientation bill.
Denise Denton, president of Lambda Student Union, said that the discussion
of this issue has not concluded. She and others are continuing to work on
alternatives to including the words "sexual orientation" in the
university's non-discrimination clause.
It is truly depressing that members of the university have to engage in a
debate over whether people should or should not be discriminated based on
their sexual orientation. Yes, the chancellor says that discrimination is
bad and will not be tolerated in any case, but what has he done and what
does he plan to do in the future to protect the rights of all?
Time is running out and people are becoming frustrated with the way things
are in the South. UT is a place of learning. We should not have to succumb
to the way things are. As an institution of higher learning, we should know
better than that.
Chancellor Synder, the ball is in your court. The fate of all people
feeling accepted and protected at UT will be determined by your actions.
Opinion: Student experience shows not all are protected at UT
From the series UNTITLED COLUMN by Chandra Hayslett
Fri May 02, 1997 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 01:15 p.m.