In a show of activism uncommon for Christian-affiliated Belmont University, approximately 45 students staged a sit-in Monday morning outside the office of university president Bob Fisher to protest last week’s dismissal of soccer coach Lisa Howe after she revealed that she and her same-sex partner are expecting a child.
The purpose of Monday’s sit-in was two-fold, according to organizer Robbie Maris: to highlight Howe’s situation, as well as the effort to have Belmont officials formally recognize a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group called Bridge Builders. In the past year, officials have twice rejected the group’s requests for official status on campus.
“Lisa Howe is not the first person who has left,” said Maris, a junior majoring in music business. “But she is the face [of the student activism].”
Fisher was out of town for an academic meeting, and the university issued the following statement:
“Belmont University has smart and passionate students who really care about their role in making a difference in the world. The university supports their right to express their opinions. The Belmont community will continue — as it always has — to engage in meaningful conversations about these issues.”
No high-ranking Belmont officials approached the group during the orderly hour-long sit-in.
Monday’s protest is part of an ongoing effort to push the university to be more accepting and embrace its stated mission of diversity in the wake of Howe’s departure, which players have said was forced by administration officials uncomfortable with her sexuality. On Sunday, a group of about 50 students stood on Belmont Boulevard in the shadows of the Curb Event Center to voice their displeasure. More protests are planned for the near future.
Karlen Paxton, a Belmont sophomore majoring in social entrepreneurship, said the goal of the sit-in was “to make the administration aware the student body disagrees with Belmont’s policies regarding the LGBT community.” Asked if the effort could be a chance to lay the groundwork for a still-skittish administration to make policy changes in the future, Paxton said, “We’ve been in the seed-planting process for quite some time. I’m ready for change now.”
Katelynd Wolf, a senior majoring in psychology, said university officials’ unwillingness to change school policy is having both visible and indirect negative effects on the student body.
“We don’t want to have people say, ‘You’re a Belmont student … you must be homophobic,’ ” she said.
Belmont officials dispute the group’s contention that the coach was fired, saying instead that Howe’s departure was the result of a mutual agreement between the two parties. They have also said the university maintains a “Christian” policy that forbids pre-marital sex, and have used that as a justification for Howe’s dismissal.