Tufts students stage sit-in, protest discrimination policy

Tensions flared at Tufts University this week when approximately 35 students staged a sit-in at the Admission Office to protest what they consider discrimination against gays.

The protest began Tuesday morning when students bombarded Bendetson Hall playing Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take it” on a boom box in protest of the ambiguities in the nondiscrimination policy.

“Tufts is essentially leaving the option of discrimination open to campus groups,” said Jesse Alderman, 19, a sophomore protester. “The ruling nullifies the nondiscrimination policy and allows people to be discriminated against because of their identity.”

Students were prepared to stay as long as needed and brought enough food and sleeping bags to last several days. The students said they would not leave until Tufts officials issued new regulations.

The students later met with President John DiBaggio.

“I want to state clearly and succinctly, for the record, that Tufts has a rigorous and comprehensive nondiscrimination policy that has worked well for many years,” he said in a written statement.

“I further want to emphasize that the University’s existing nondiscrimination policy encourages individuals to accept their identity on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, disability, and ethnic origin and supports individuals in doing so, and I affirm that the nondiscrimination policy is understood to include such self-acceptance of identity,” he said.

The issue began last April when Tufts Christian Fellowship, an evangelical religious group, was denied funding and University-sanctioned status after it refused to allow a lesbian, senior Julie Catalano, to hold a leadership position.

Catalano was barred from the position because her sexual orientation is in direct discord with group’s beliefs against homosexuality.

In response, the TFC collected letters of support from religious organizations and civil libertarians and appealed the decision to the Tufts Community Union Judiciary.

A subsequent Oct. 16 decision allowed the group to remain on campus and receive University funds, but found the evangelicals discriminated against a student based on sexual orientation.

Jonathan Crowe, a senior and leader of the TCF, defended the organization’s decision. Catalano, he said, held other leadership positions in the past two years, but she never objected to the TCF’s tenants. After applying for a leadership position, Catalano informed the group that she no longer agreed that “homosexuality was a sin,” Crowe said.

“In considering this request,” Crowe said, “the senior leaders eventually decided that offering her a leadership position would require affirming her beliefs, which were in strong disagreement with those of TCF.

“Her sexual orientation was never the issue. TFC has had other senior leaders in the past that have been homosexual in orientation, but agreed with the Biblical beliefs of the organization.”

After the judicial ruling, approximately 35 students from campus groups including the Tufts University Hillel, the Pan-African Alliance and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Collective formed the Tufts Students Against Discrimination. The group alleged the University administration misinterpreted school policy.

So far, the coalition has distributed flyers and hanging banners to publicize their stance to students and faculty.

The TSAD is urging the administration to affirm aspects of the nondiscrimination policy: self-acceptance of one’s identity and the applicability of the policy to external organizations operating at Tufts.

The 35-hour sit-in came to an end at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night.

“We got everything we wanted,” said student protester Adam Carlis.

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