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Students hope hateful email will lead to policy change at UVU

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Mar. 5, 2012 at 9:46 p.m.

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OREM — Students at Utah Valley University have turned a hateful act against a fellow student into an opportunity to fight prejudice and effect change on campus.

Presidents of university clubs received Thursday an email denouncing Tom Hawkins, a candidate for the vice president of clubs and organizations position in the student government, because of the Hawkins' sexual orientation.

Hawkins is openly gay and the acting president of UVU's gay-straight alliance, but said he has never experienced prejudice at such a level at the school.

"I've had discussions and talks with people that have gotten a little heated, but it's never been anything close to this," he said. "UVU is a pretty all-inclusive campus so I didn't see this coming."

The email, sent from an anonymous address, claimed that Hawkins' sexuality impaired and biased his judgment.

"This is a risky thing as he will be imposing his biasis (sic) and judgments into all of the clubs and organizations on campus," the email read in part. "If we are to allow a gay student into student government, next they will be allowing students to advocate for same sex marriage."

Hawkins said that while he was surprised by the email, the response has been overwhelmingly in his support.

"I was a little shocked at first and upset," he said. "I was a little hurt and very tempted to just pull out of the race, but after giving it some time and letting my initial reaction settle down, I decided it was not the viewpoint of everyone; it was just one person's viewpoint — so I decided to keep going."

It's important to remember that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, their own ideas, their own ideologies. It's important for me to remember that ... if I don't take it personally that will affect all aspects of my life.

–Tom Hawkins

The author of the email urged students to "stand up for what we believe to be right."

"We must do anything to spread the word to any and all of our fellow students that have any influence with any clubs or organizations here on campus," the emailer wrote. And students have taken the challenge to heart — just not in the way the email suggested.

Spectrum — UVU's gay-straight alliance — is now working with five other university clubs to petition for a sexual orientation clause to be added to the school's anti-discrimination policy, according to Hawkins.

"Getting the anti-discrimination policy changed would be a great help moving forward," he said. "We claim to be an all-inclusive campus, so now would be a great time to make the change."

Hawkins said the clubs are circulating a petition and plan to take it, along with letters from students and members of the community, to a meeting Friday with UVU President Matthew S. Holland.

The university's anti-discrimination policies for students and potential employees do not specifically mention sexual- orientation. Potential employees may not be discriminated against based on "race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy-related condition, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era, unless such is a bona fide occupational qualification."

The policy for students is less specific, but includes under a "general rights" section "Freedom from a discriminatory and offensive environment that may cause emotional stress or a hostile or offensive campus environment directed toward another person."

Students are focusing on changing the equal employment policy, hoping positive effects will trickle throughout the entire university community.

"The way a university treats its faculty and staff reflects the way it treats its students," said Emily Lacock, the head of the LGBT committee for the Revolutionary Student Union. "If it is not included for faculty, how can we expect it to truly reflect the university's attitude toward its students?"

We feel the university has the opportunity to actually make the school a safer place, and they need to take that opportunity.

–Emily Lacock

University students are ready to take a stand, according to Lacock, because of a history of failed attempts over at least the past year to change the school's policy. She indicated a survey given by the gay-straight alliance last year that seemed to indicate students "wouldn't be offended by" an addition to the policy.

"We feel the university has the opportunity to actually make the school a safer place, and they need to take that opportunity," she said.

Hawkins, meanwhile, is remaining upbeat.

"It's important to remember that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, their own ideas, their own ideologies," he said. "It's important for me to remember that and to not take it personally — if I don't take it personally that will affect all aspects of my life."

University officials released a statement Thursday condemning "intimidation, harassment and discrimination against any student."

"The reported viewpoint represents one anonymous individual's perspective and is not shared by the University," the statement read in part. "In fact, we denounce such vitriolic, uncivil and counterproductive dialog."

Phone calls requesting further comment were not immediately returned.

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