Lingering resentment from Samford University students and alumni has continued since the decision last summer to halt the recognition of the LGBTQ advocacy group, Samford Together, on campus. Brit Blalock, an alumna and LGBTQ activist, leads Safe Samford, a group of students, faculty, alumni and staff set up in 2011 to protect and encourage LGBTQ indiviudals at Samford. Blalock published an open letter to Samford faculty on the Safe Samford website where she expressed her frustration in the wake of President Andrew Westmoreland’s decision last semester to not ask the university’s trustees for official recognition of the Samford Together group.
“I was frustrated with the situation and I felt as though faculty were also frustrated with the situation, but I felt as though they were scared to act or speak out about it,” Blalock said in an interview with The Samford Crimson.
According to Blalock, who referenced student organization manuals, Westmoreland may not have followed protocol when he chose to stop the group from continuing on. A previous University Recognized Student Organization Manual updated in June 2017 stated proposed student groups would be submitted for endorsement by the board of trustees after they received faculty approval. It reads: “Paperwork is submitted to the Samford Board of Trustees for endorsement. The Board of Trustees will make a decision concerning the recognition of the organization.” The “Process for Recognition” portion of the June 2017 manual made no direct mention of the university’s president having any involvement in the student organization process.
The manual was revised in September 2017 and now explicitly states the university president will have authority over whether or not a group will be presented to the board of trustees. The new manual’s “Process for Recognition” portion now includes an additional step between faculty approval and a board of trustees vote. It now reads: “The Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, along with the University President, will review the request and make a decision concerning presenting the request to the Board of Trustees for final vote and full recognition.”
In response to questions about the Student Organization Manual, university officials said Westmoreland did follow protocol.
“If a student organization receives SGA and faculty approval, that organization is brought to the Board of Trustees for a vote at the discretion of the President of the University. This has always been the protocol for student organization approval and this was the protocol for Samford Together,” Assistant Vice President for Student Development Matt Kerlin said in an email to the Crimson. “Agenda items reach the trustees only at the discretion of the University President. This is the way universities function.”
Junior political science major Isaac Sours, who along with three other students, is a member of a 12-person committee set up by Westmoreland in the wake of Samford Together to discuss issues pertaining to human sexuality, shared why he believes the president acted as he did.
“I recognize that he made the decision to halt the approval process for Samford Together, but I remain confident that he did this in order to prevent the board of trustees from permanently barring the existence of any group like Samford Together,” said Sours.
The group formed by Westmoreland has met privately and will continue to meet throughout the year, according to Stephen Moss, a member of the committee. The group has not made any statements to the campus, which has reportedly caused strife among those who were chosen to participate on the committee.
Blalock said she felt that even though Westmoreland had created a group to discuss the issues, it completely left out a whole group of people who were involved in the conversation.
“We haven’t seen anything come from it yet and given how nearly unanimous the vote was from the faculty and how much support there was on campus and from alumni, I expected that he would have moved a little quicker in doing something with that group,” Blalock said.
According to Blalock, no individual with somewhat strong ties to the Safe Samford organization were given the opportunity to participate in this new committee. Blalock said she believed they were purposely left out. In her letter, which she also emailed to all Samford faculty on Feb. 14, Blalock stated that the committee was “insulting and insufficient.”
“It is insulting because you took an idea from a group of students who were running with something and decided to control it for yourself,” Blalock said. “The insufficient part is that it removed a bunch of people who are heavily involved from the conversation. You took them out so you could carefully choose who you could involve. That’s not the way it works, that’s not how open dialogue works. You can’t just boot people out when they have been leading the conversation all along.”
With the conversation seemingly stopped at an official level for now, students are still finding ways to have conversations about sexuality. Jillian Fantin, a sophomore political science and english major, said students should be able to have these conversations without going through all these processes.
“I want to see there is trust for students to discuss these issues amongst themselves,” Fantin said. “The administration did not need to interfere.”
Fantin said she has attempted to lead discussions in class, through other student organizations such as the College Democrats and in her sorority. Fantin also has expressed issues with this new committee.
“My concern is that any time you choose one, two, three, or however many number of people to represent a community, you are only going to get their opinions,” said Fantin.
Even with the mixed reactions and emotions in the aftermath of Samford Together, those involved with the new committee, such as Sours, feel progress will come along.
“I believe that with time we will make substantial changes to this campus’s culture, and that we will have the support of the president throughout the process. I continue to support Dr. Westmoreland because he has always supported me,” Sours said.
Daniel Dodson, News Writer