On Friday, Feb. 12, the UM Board of Trustees approved an addition to University policy that further extends the protection of students and faculty from same-sex and gender-based harassment and discrimination.
This addition extends policy protection to include “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and genetic information.”
However, additional language proposed by Trustee Caroline Aderholt was also approved.
This additional language states the University will “not take any discriminatory action against a person, group or organization based wholly or partially” on a person’s “perceived or actual religious beliefs about marriage, gender and/or sexuality.”
This extension is set to be included in policy 01:100: Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and policy 01:120: Bias-Related Acts of Violence, Intimidation, Harassment and/or Discrimination.
At the board meeting, a mixed crowd of students, faculty and community members gathered in the Reynolds Merrill room.
In a 4-3 vote, the board approved the Aderholt enhanced version of the policy change.
Though the policy was approved, it will not go into effect until the board votes on an implementation plan to go along with the policy changes in their August meeting.
Currently, the religious and marriage beliefs language is being reviewed by a legal team and the University administration.
Meanwhile, organizations like the Faculty Senate, Student Government association and Safe Zone will work together with a Trustee to create an appropriate implementation plan.
Despite the passing, the Safe Zone committee was critical of the “unfortunate language” added to their approved change.
“It is our hope and advocacy that the qualifying language not become part of the University policy,” said the Safe Zone committee in a statement emailed to friends and supporters.
The committee stated the controversial addition “may serve to undermine the intent of the policy updates regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
Safe Zone is not the only organization on campus with criticism. “From the students we’ve talked to, the additive language is definitely a sore spot,” said SGA President Jacob Gordon. “However, the original language was in, and that’s something of itself.”
Gordon said the SGA will continue to work with Safe Zone and the Faculty Senate to find an appropriate implementation plan, but it will ultimately be up to next semester’s SGA to continue any substantive legislation.
Board of Trustees Chairman and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange predicted that implementing the changes will be a “no-brainer” come August.
He said the community interest in the issue left a palpable impression on the meeting. “It makes a difference. It speaks volumes. You express what you feel by your presence, by your dollars but time is very precious,” Strange said.