For years, students at the University of Central Arkansas have been able to walk by Torreyson Library on campus and take note of the sign out front, often glittered with humorous puns and phrases.
After recent controversy, though, the sign has remained blank for several days; or at least it was until students took it upon themselves to fill it in with inspirational notes, adding color to the white backdrop.
The situation began June 11 when the UCA Torreyson Library Facebook page posted a photo of its updated sign, showing “love and respect,” to the LGBTQ members of the campus community, also including a link to its LGBTQ+ resources.
“Being gay is like glitter, it never goes away,” a quote by Lady Gaga, the sign read.
The university and its president, Houston Davis, as well as other members of the administration, have recently come under fire for asking the library to take the sign down after contact from stakeholders concerning whether that was a university sign and what policies and procedures are put in place regarding what can and cannot be displayed on the sign.
As a result of the administration's decision, officials now say the university's values are being called into question.
The Log Cabin Democrat had the opportunity to sit down with Davis on Thursday and talk with him about the situation.
He said it wasn’t the content of the sign that led to it being removed, but it was the fact that it wasn’t following university nor library policy, making sure the university-owned property was used for library related content only.
“I can tell you this, in no way was I saying that the library staff did anything out of anything but good intentions,” Davis said. “I mean, they were just trying to make a gesture towards students and that’s certainly clear, in all of this, that we love and support students too.”
The university president met with the library staff on Tuesday. He said he heard concerns and opinions from the group but said there was an overall understanding that they need to get back to using the sign in line with their policy.
The LCD asked communication’s director Amanda Hoelzeman for the policy, who said it was an oral policy, not a written one.
As far as the university policy aforementioned, Hoelzeman directed the LCD toward board policy 413 regarding university equipment, which can be viewed at www.uca.edu/board/files/2010/11/413.pdf.
Davis said if the message had been written on anything but a university-owned piece of equipment, the conversation would be different, reminding everyone that it comes down to free speech, mentioning the many organization and group signs that fill the campus grounds.
As the situation has grown, university officials continue to receive emails in support, emails against, emails filled with profanity and other designs.
As a result of these and other department conversations laced in misconceptions as to the initial reason the sign was removed, Davis said it became clear to him that he needed to address the campus community as a whole, done through an email June 18.
In the email addressed to faculty, staff and students, Davis said the issues surrounding the sign’s use and its removal was complicated.
“It is a core university value that we support our entire community and its diversity,” he wrote. “Advocating for our LGBTQ community is not only appropriate but very important.”
Davis said while the message was well intended what wasn’t appropriate was for it to be displayed on the university sign and when the library, as an arm of the university, speaks on the sign, it does so officially.
“We do have to be very careful that we walk the fine line between individual freedom of speech and institutional voice,” he said.
On varying Facebook posts about the situation, opinions are broad, from users being upset to some in support to some calling attention to other recent issues.
One user was upset that the UCA mascot was recently used at a local church’s vacation bible school activities, unbeknownst to the campus president.
Davis sent out another email to the campus telling recipients the issue was only recently brought to his attention and condemning it.
“This is not okay on any level,” he said. “The university platform and branding cannot be used in that manner. We have much work to do to better understand policies on inappropriate use of university resources.”
Davis said as a result, the athletics department, just like the library, spent the morning after developing its own internal process, documentation and request form for external groups, which will include explanation of the type of events that UCA mascots, logos and branding can be associated with.
Regarding the sign, the president ended up sending another email on June 19.
He said he understood the removal of the quote caused fury and sadness across the campus and his observation that the library sign being used as a university platform had morphed into a debate about the university's values and commitment to diversity.
“I am very sorry that this has been the outcome and that anyone has felt unwelcome or silenced,” Davis said. “That was certainly never my intention. We are absolutely committed to supporting our LGBTQ students and our entire campus community.”
In conversations with the LCD on Thursday, Davis reiterated that since his first day on campus his main goal has been to get to know the entire campus, including the students, and to establish relationships with all diverse groups.
Throughout the school year, Davis can be seen at any given time on the football field during games and in the student section, as well as other differing sports events, attending PRISM and student ministry meetings, in attendance at student government meeting assemblies and more.
“That’s the way I think you should be president,” he said. “Generally, any student group that invites me to do anything, I'll say yes. If there's any way I can make the calendar work, I'll say yes, and I'm glad because the reality is that's how you get the, 'okay, wait a second. Even if that is out in social media is the perception, we know that's not the Houston Davis or the President Davis that we [know].’”
Davis said it’s easy for someone to say that something shouldn’t be taken personally, but at the end of the day, the situation has been hard because he doesn’t want anyone to feel they are not committee to the LGBTQ community and every student on campus.
“I put on my president Davis hat all the time and I try and check my personal feelings but yeah, it's hard, especially when it strikes at the heart of something that, you know, I care about,” he said. “Forget the professional care, the personal care about it."
Moving forward, the university president said he wants to continue to focus on establishing and growing all university relationships.