CONWAY -- The president of the University of Central Arkansas said Tuesday that a library sign quoting Lady Gaga's words about gay people crossed a line because it amounted to an arm of the university advocating "a personal viewpoint."
Staff members of UCA's Torreyson Library had put the Lady Gaga quote on the letterboard-style sidewalk sign about June 11 during Pride Month, and President Houston Davis requested that it be removed the next day, university spokesman Amanda Hoelzeman said.
The quote on the black-and-white sign said: "Being gay is like glitter. It never goes away. -- Lady Gaga."
In an email Tuesday to faculty, staff members and students, Davis wrote that advocating for the school's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community was important, then added: "I believe that the intent of the message was to show support for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff, but it was not okay for the university sign to be used to make a personal statement or advocate for a personal viewpoint. That is the line that the sign itself crossed."
"Unlike our student groups or other organizations, the library is an official arm of UCA and when it 'speaks' on that sign which serves information regarding library hours, it speaks officially," Davis wrote. "We do have to be very careful that we walk the fine line between individual freedom of speech and institutional voice."
University president’s letter to students, staffView
Content on the sign changes from time to time, reflecting special events such as Black History Month and Pride Month. Sometimes, the sign displays information such as library hours.
"Going forward, we will discuss the messaging plans for this sign and all university signs like it," Hoelzeman said in an email interview.
Davis said another factor in having the message removed was timing -- a reference to the summer band camps and other activities that attract many secondary-school students to the campus.
"We have to be very mindful of the hundreds of minors that are on campus during the summer which further complicates an environment that is normally programmed for adults and our very meaningful conversations about ourselves and our world," he wrote. "One outgrowth of that perspective on minors has been a start of a good conversation about best practices how to present or represent issues when minors are on the campus."
Davis said he was visiting with library workers "to hear their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions."
"I believe that everyone involved came from a position of love and support. A genuine gesture by our library faculty and staff for members of our community has morphed into a misunderstanding about our core values and matters of freedom of speech versus institutional voice," he wrote.
Hoelzeman said in an email that Davis, the board of trustees, and elected officials had received complaints from students and community members about the sign. Those came in addition to social media comments.
Ashley Nicole Hunter, a senior from Conway and editor this past term of UCA's award-winning Vortex Magazine of Literature and Fine Art, said the letter so upset her that she was withdrawing from classes.
She said she and others were "in shock and fury" and that some students were attaching Post-it notes to the blank sign in support of LGBTQ people. "This isn't even like a half-hearted apology. This is doubling down and further insulting us by suggesting we [members of the LGBTQ community] shouldn't be exposed to minors," she said.
Hoelzeman said that's "not at all how the message was intended."
"The issue is not about minors being exposed to the LGBTQ community. It is about the university remembering that when we do have minors on campus, we have to be mindful of information and debate that is designed for students, faculty and staff who are 18 and above," Hoelzeman said.
Hunter, who is married and described herself as pansexual, said she was particularly upset that the message was removed "on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre" in Florida and that the university had never indicated there was a problem before with such signs.
"I think he [Davis] didn't care because his bigger concern was the money that was coming in from minors," she said.
"The letter just reinforces the suspicions that we already had about why the school removed the sign," Hunter said.
"It just confirms that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that UCA's policy of diversity means, as long as it looks good for the university and doesn't conflict with people who give us money."
Hoelzeman countered that money from the summer camps "was not a consideration whatsoever."
Hoelzeman said she could not speak to previous signs, though "there likely have been" some. But, she said, "This was the first time that it was brought to our attention that the sign seemed to be used not for celebrating Pride month, but for making a personal statement.
"This issue points to the fact that we need to be more aware of how any university signage or platform is used in order to uphold freedom of speech as well as be aware of our institutional voice," Hoelzeman said.
"This latest event has absolutely put a spotlight on the fact that we need to review our policies on using university platforms to advocate for a host of issues and topics," she added.
"We do regularly have student organization signs on campus, but these signs are those of Registered Student Organizations, not the university."
State Desk on 06/19/2019
Print Headline: Pro-gay message removed by UCA