"Because of the hiding they had to do, I sometimes see an even greater harm in them years after leaving campus"
Dear Dr. Westmoreland,
I graduated from Samford University in 2006 with a degree in journalism and mass communication and a hope that I would proudly represent the school I loved. I also hoped that the same commitment would be made on the university's part to represent its students and alumni.
One of the best pieces of feedback I got from a Samford professor came while I was working on The Samford Crimson. Dr. Dan (as he was lovingly called) looked at me while we were trying to come up with a headline in the wee hours of another Tuesday morning. With slight affection but more so exhaustion, he said "ya know, if there's a complicated way to say something, Melissa, that's how you word it."
In my professional and personal life, I think of that line often. So without cluttering this letter up with a lot of rambling, I'll get to the point. I believe that denying a board vote to the Samford Together group was wrong. I know that by denying that opportunity, as it was promised to them, it creates even more fear, frustration and displacement. I can say with certainty that for every traditional conservative you pacified, a group of students were harmed.
The saddest part is that you probably won't even see all of that harm. You'll see a girl in a Samford hoodie walking with her friends to the caf. When I was attending Samford, I didn't think I even saw that many LGBT students. I learned many years after graduation that I had seen tons of them everyday. And because of the hiding they had to do, I sometimes see an even greater harm in them years after leaving campus.
It breaks my heart to think that students are suffering, because it's supposedly too difficult and polarizing to have honest discussion. It encourages me, though, that students far braver than I'll probably ever be are continuing the fight for equality.
I watched your video address to students after making the decision to deny their right to a board vote. I understand that you were trying to offer an explanation and provide an alternative "initiative," but what came across to those who needed Samford Together was still denial. While it's easy to rely on talking points to come across as fighting for many sides, your students are often left stifling their own words because the environment they want to be a part of isn't fighting for them to be heard.
Bouncing between applauding Samford Together's goals and an eagerness to discuss difficult topics to deeming the group too politically entangled is complicated. And from what I learned at Samford, complicated messaging doesn't make you a good communicator. Threading the needle between supporters and opponents of Samford Together doesn't serve all sides. It really just muddies the water in what should be a black and white issue: your students want to feel comfortable discussing their lives.
I know you've done many great things for Samford, and I only hope that you continue to do so. Be direct with your students. Be consistent with your promises. Be there when they need you; four years goes by quickly.
Melissa Jordan, Class of 2006