Half a Loaf at Hampton

Participants at liberal event avoid expulsion, but new gay rights group left in limbo on right to form.
December 5, 2005

On Friday, students at Hampton University who faced expulsion after being accused of violating university policy by handing out fliers focused on Hurricane Katrina, homophobia and other issues, were allowed to remain enrolled. Five of the seven charged students will each be required to perform 20 hours of community service after undergoing a hearing process conducted by administrators.

Despite that outcome, some on campus have expressed concerns that university administrators are continuing to punish liberal-leaning students by placing a moratorium on new student groups after a gay-straight alliance group provided a lengthy application for recognition on November 3.  

“About a week ago, I went back to check what date we would be expected to formally present our proposal,” said Lisanne Magnus, president of the currently informal group of more than 50 students. She was told by Patra Johnson, a staff member who works in the student affairs office, that there is now a “moratorium” on creating student organizations at the university, Magnus said.

The group’s application read in part: “There is no organization at Hampton University that is designed specifically to fit the needs of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, and questioning (GLBTQ) students. The proposed Gay Straight Alliance should be recognized because it will bring more diversity to Hampton University’s campus, and provide the GLBTQ students with a safe community of peers. This organization will uphold codes four and seven in the Hampton University Code Of Conduct by helping the students on Hampton University’s campus to learn from the differences in people, ideas and opinions and foster an open, fair, and caring environment (Hampton University Code of Conduct, 2000).”

Magnus, a sophomore, has tried contacting several administrators about this situation for confirmation of Johnson’s statement, but hasn’t received word back to date. More than one student indicated that the plan had been discussed by Bennie G. McMorris, the historically black university’s chief student affairs officer. On Saturday, Johnson referred all questions on this matter to McMorris. A man who answered McMorris’s cell phone on Saturday evening indicated that Inside Higher Ed had “the wrong number” after a reporter identified himself.  Several more calls to the administrator’s cell phone and home number went unanswered.  

A statement released by the university after Friday’s student hearing struck students as contradicting the university’s latest actions: “Hampton University has always and continues to be a champion of free speech and free expression,” according to the statement, which was released Friday. “Hampton University believes in the free flow and sharing of ideas among our faculty, staff and students.”

“I think those statements are 100 percent false,” said John Robinson, a student who faced charges at the Friday hearing. “They have a long, long history of repressing progressive thought among faculty and students.”

Robinson added that university officials have lost the paperwork several times when his currently informal student progressive group has petitioned for recognition.

Despite the moratorium, Robinson said Saturday that his group plans to soon petition the university again.  Robinson said that more than one student he knows has been told by administrators that “there are too many groups on campus” when inquiring about the freeze issue.

Hampton is one of only a few institutions in its area that doesn’t have an official gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender group on campus.

Magnus said that the situation at Hampton is directly correlated with the conservative politics of the current administration, headed by President William R. Harvey, who was appointed to the board of Fannie Mae by President George W. Bush.  “It is an extremely conservative school concerned about its image,” she said. “But there are many, many liberal students on this campus -- and they’re going to keep doing liberal things.”


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