OCR Report finds University acted
“appropriately,” but activists say it failed to address the critical
by Jermaine Caldwell
In a rekindling of a debate stemming
from a February e-mail from a UNC lecturer to her class regarding hate
speech, the Department of Education released in September a report on the
matter and found that the instructor did discriminate against and harass her
student, while also finding the University took appropriate measures to
address the situation.
The decision has some LGBTIQ
activists reacting strongly because of the negative effects the report may
potentially have on the climate for sexual and gender minorities at the
On February 6, 2004, UNC Lecturer
Elyse Crystall sent an e-mail to her English class in hopes of sealing a
classroom conversation surrounding heterosexual privilege that had taken a
turn toward controversial as the class was ending when junior Tim Mertes
said he felt “disgusted” by homosexuality.
In order to fully address his
comments, Crystall e-mailed the class, calling Mertes’ comments “hate
speech” and unacceptable. Within the e-mail she identified Mertes as white,
Christian, heterosexual and male.
To decide whether the e-mail
constituted discrimination or harassment based on race and sex, an
investigation by the Office for Civil Rights under education department was
called ? the culmination of which is found in the report.
The 11-page finding states, “while
the evidence shows that the Student was subjected to intentional
discrimination and harassment, the University addressed the situation such
that no further action is necessary on its part to satisfy the legal
In a brief press release, Chancellor
James Moeser said, “We are pleased that the Office for Civil Rights’ review
found that the university acted appropriately in this case.”
LGBTIQ activists, however, say there
was very little dispute over whether Crystall acted inappropriately in her
e-mail or whether the University covered its bases by responding to the
Tim Stallmann, a junior and member
of the Committee for a Queerer Carolina, said it was troubling how the
account of events detailed by the OCR report left out important facts from
“OCR’s bias is clear in their
analysis of those facts,” Stallmann said. “The report stresses several times
that Mertes felt the need to change his e-mail address, despite the fact
that he never received a single hateful e-mail at either address, while
making no mention of the numerous attacks Elyse received by phone and
More at issue, some say, is that the
report left out dialogue surrounding the initial cause of the situation -
the comment, not the e-mail.
Activists say this along with
University silence not only leaves Mertes’ comments unchallenged but tacitly
affirms their presence in a classroom.
“It completely undermines the
concept of privilege,” said Zachary Howell, a junior and treasurer of the
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender - Straight Alliance at UNC. “It
legitimizes heterosexism and paints a face of dignity on heterosexist
This isn’t the view for some
University employees. Stephanie Chang, LGBTQ Office coordinator, said UNC
administrators have, in fact, begun to address the various issues at hand.
She notes the close work between the Faculty Council and the Center for
Teaching and Learning to establish better response to comments like Mertes’
as ways in which the University is keeping an eye on the LGBTIQ climate.
“I applaud and encourage these
efforts that the University continues to make ... including making the
campus a better place for LGBTQ students,” she said.
Stallmann, however, believes that
beyond the comments, beyond the e-mail and beyond the University response
lies the ongoing battle between campus progressives and conservatives ? a
tussle that only warms up with the latest chapter of this controversy. And
the latest installment doesn’t sit well with him.
He said, “When conservatives refer
to themselves as oppressed minorities, they not only devalue the claims of
actually oppressed minorities, they also are able to dodge responsibility
for their own actions.”