September 28, 2006

Northern Kentucky University responds to Kentucky Equality Federation concerns

After speaking to Northern Kentucky University administrators and receiving a written response from President James Votruba, Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer said he is now satisfied with the university's response to an alleged incident involving a gay student.

"Until (the university) had all the information we were reluctant to make a statement," said Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Shanley.

Kentucky Hall Residential Assistant Jeremy Phillippi reported finding an anti-gay message on his dorm door at about 12:30 a.m. Aug. 28 after returning from settling a roommate disturbance in another residential hall. Phillippi also reported the hall bulletin board decorations, including information about Phillippi's involvement with local gay/straight alliances, had been torn down.

After the incident, Phillippi asked the Kentucky Equality Federation to be involved since he was not satisfied with the university's response to the situation.

The federation then sent Votruba a letter Sept. 18 requesting the university be more "hands on" with the situation and issue a statement condemning the action with consequences for students who target others based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Votruba responded the next day with a written letter to the federation's president stating, "As with all complaints of misconduct, the university responded immediately, through its housing staff and the Department of Public Safety, to investigate the incident."

He also stated in the letter that the report was inconsistent with NKU's values and he found it important to send a message that will reaffirm the importance of civilized behavior toward all individuals and discourage behavior that threatens an individual's respect and freedom.

"When the investigation into this complaint is completed, I will personally communicate this message to the entire NKU community," Votruba said.

According to University Police Chief Harold Todd, the investigation of the case is complete and it is now considered inactive. Police have no leads or suspects regarding the incident and are hoping someone will come forward and confess or give them information about the vandalism.

Shanley said he thinks Votruba will make his statement within the next week.

After speaking with Shanley, Palmer said in a release he now has a much better understanding of the situation. "I thought Shanley was both receptive and supportive, having made himself available to Phillippi if he encountered any additional problems," he said.

Shanley, as well as Dean of Students Kent Kelso, stopped by NKU's gay-straight alliance, Common Ground, meeting Sept. 19 and spoke with the students about discrimination, tolerance and answered questions about anti-gay acts that have happened at NKU in the past.

The federation still plans to meet with Common Ground's board of officers to further discuss ways it can support the gay-straight alliance.

September 26, 2006

Kentucky Equality Federation and Northern Kentucky University Reach Agreement

Kentucky Equality Association/Federation President Jordan Palmer stated today that he is now satisfied with Northern Kentucky University’s response to an incident involving a gay student.

On August 28th, Jeremy Phillippi said he found "(this word omitted by Kentucky Equality) you fag. I hope you get AIDS" on his dorm room door and that the decorations on a bulletin board had been torn down. Phillippi is a resident advisor at the university and a member of Common Ground, Northern Kentucky University’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

Phillippi filed a complaint with the Federation to push NKU administrators to take a more aggressive stance against acts of discrimination, intimidation and hatred.

The Kentucky Equality Federation requested university management assume a more "hands on" role in the investigation and issue a public statement condemning this action with consequences of targeting students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity clearly identified.

“After speaking to Vice President of Student Affairs Mark G. Shanley, I have a much better understanding of the situation,” stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. “We had a very friendly, candid conversation about the incident and will keep an open dialog. I thought Mr. Shanley was both receptive and supportive, having made himself personally available to Phillippi if he encountered any additional problems.”

Vice President Shanley and Dean of Students Kelso stopped by a Common Ground meeting this week and spoke with them about discrimination, tolerance, and a variety of other topics.

“I think Vice President Shanley making time to personally address Jeremy Phillippi’s concerns and speak directly to NKU’s Gay-Straight Alliance is very impressive,” stated Kentucky Equality Federation Awareness Coordinator Jesse Alexander.

Alexander’s comments where echoed by Common Ground’s Co-President Mike Volmer yesterday during a telephone conversation with Palmer.

“Because the reported misconduct also represents behavior inconsistent with our University’s values, it is important that we also respond in a manner that sends a clear message reaffirming the importance of civilized behavior toward all individuals and discouraging behavior which threatens the freedom and respect that every individual deserves. When the investigation into this complaint is completed, I will personally communicate this message to the entire Northern Kentucky University community,” stated Northern Kentucky University President James C. Votruba.

Phillippi partnered with another resident advisor to facilitate a two-day program focused on diversity, tolerance, and AIDS with the University Housing Department providing funding, marketing support and serving as co-sponsor.

Palmer stated Kentucky Equality Federation would continue to support its members and Gay-Straight Alliances across Kentucky.

Palmer and other management from Kentucky Equality Federation still plan to meet with members of Common Ground’s Board to discuss monetary and material ways the federation can support the Gay-Straight Alliance.

September 20, 2006

Federation criticizes response

In response to an alleged anti-gay crime on Northern Kentucky University's campus, a statewide equality federation sent a letter Sept. 18 addressed to President James Votruba regarding the situation and the university’s response to it.

At about 12:30 a.m., Aug. 28, Jeremy Phillippi said he found "Fuck you fag. I hope you get AIDS" on his dorm room door and that the decorations on a bulletin board, which is across from his room, had been torn down.

Phillippi, who is a residential assistant in Kentucky Hall, said he cleaned the writing off his door before anyone saw it and filed an incident with University Housing the next morning.

Since neither University Police nor University Housing could find evidence of the anti-gay writing or any suspects or witnesses, the case still remains under investigation.

Dissatisfied with NKU administration not releasing any public statements regarding the alleged incident, Phillippi contacted the Kentucky Equality Federation, located in Florence, Ky.

After posting Phillippi's account of the incident on its Web site, the federation sent at letter to Votruba stating it condemns NKU’s response and finds Dean Kent Kelso’s statements to The Northerner "unacceptable."

Kelso told The Northerner Sept. 12 that he "cannot confirm that any incident even occurred" and he could not act on Phillippi's reports without concrete evidence.

The letter informs Votruba, "If administration fails to take practice steps to educate its students that this type of behavior is unacceptable by Sept. 29, 2006, the Board of Directors approved Resolution 18-D43 to use all available legal and civil (including peaceful protests) remedies to bring the case to a close by making it an educational experience."

The resolution passed by the federation also directs its secretary to inform the International Lesbian and Gay Association if the university does not take action by the established date, according to the letter.

According to Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Shanley, NKU's administration received the letter late afternoon Sept. 18 and plans to respond directly to the federation.

"Students at Northern Kentucky University deserve to be able to be themselves, without having to face verbal or physical violence and be able to get an education without having to suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Jordan Palmer, Kentucky Equality Federation president, in the letter to Votruba.

At the end of the letter, the federation listed recommendations to the university as ways to use Phillippi's story for an educational purpose. The federation recommended NKU "issue a statement on the importance of Common Ground, what it stands for and its objectives. Issue a statement reminding students that Northern Kentucky University is a school of diversity."

In response to the recommendations, Shanley said university administration responded “swiftly” once they heard of Phillippi's report.

"We're acting on this in an orderly manner as things are revealed to us," Shanley said.

He also said the university administration is now considering the best message to reinforce NKU's commitment to values about tolerance and teaching students to behave with civility to incidents such as this does not reoccur.

"We have taken this most seriously," he said. "We have attempted to be proactive in this situation."

The federation also recommended the university "issue a public apology for Phillippi for the university not following through on statements made and published in the Kentucky Post and/or state that staff will continue to monitor the situation and act swiftly against all acts of intolerance."

September 13, 2006

Student reports anti-gay crime

In Jeremy Phillippi's first few weeks as a residential assistant, he's held floor meetings, planned events, handled roommate conflicts and dealt with vandalism – just as he learned during training. What he didn’t learn, however, was what to do when he became the center of the conflict.

At around 12:30 a.m., Aug. 28, Phillippi reported that while he was settling a conflict in Commonwealth Hall, someone vandalized his door and his bulletin board outside his door, which he is responsible for decorating each month as an RA.

Phillippi, who is openly gay, told University Housing and University Police that someone wrote with a black permanent marker, "Fuck you fag. I hope you get AIDS," on the door to his room and tore down the decorations on the bulletin board that featured back-to-school and "Get to know your RA" information about Phillippi, which listed his involvement with Common Ground and other gay/straight alliances in the area.

"It's been hard to stay with a professional line and stay positive," said Phillippi, who just started his second year at Northern Kentucky University and his first semester as an RA in Kentucky Hall's first floor A wing.

Phillippi filed an incident report with the University Police Aug. 29, but had already cleaned the writing off of his door. Police were unable to take any evidence of the writing, but took a dry-erase board that had been scribbled on, according to Phillippi.

Now, weeks later, Phillippi said he's still dealing with his feelings of the incident and the how University Housing and NKU handled it.

"I feel like I've been victimized three times," he said, since Phillippi felt the both the administration and University Housing didn't respond appropriately.

Dissatisfied with the response, Phillippi contacted Kentucky Equality Federation, which advocates equal rights and is located in Florence, Ky. The federation posted an alert on its Web site asking visitors to sign an e-mail directed "to Northern Kentucky University demanding campus management assume a more 'hands on' role in the investigation of a hate crime, bullying and vandalism incident directed to a member of Common Ground."

The e-mail asks the university to issue a public statement condemning the incident and include consequences for people who target students because of their sexual orientation.

"It's hard to say whether the incident was motivated by hate or not," said University Housing Director Matt Brown. "I consider it to be an act of intolerance."

Brown said the incident is the first time an anti-gay act of vandalism toward an openly gay student has happened at NKU.

University Housing conducted an investigation separate from University Police and found no evidence supporting Phillippi's testimony, since the writing was cleaned shortly after its inscription.

Dean of Students Kent Kelso met with Phillippi regarding the incident and said the university has taken no action because it "cannot confirm that any incident even occurred."

Kelso said University Police has not found evidence of vandalism or the alleged statement written on the door.

He said it's unfortunate if Phillippi cleaned the writing off before police arrived because now he has no evidence to support his story.

"I don't think its appropriate to do anything, especially if we have no evidence," Kelso said.

Kelso remained firm that the university will take no action as a result of the incident.

"It sounds like Jeremy wants us to do something based on his word alone,” Kelso said. “We just don’t do that."