Goldy elicits QSCC objection

by Lily Langerud

For the past several years, Goldy Gopher appeared at Lavender Graduation, shaking hands and taking photos with graduates.

But at Thursday’s event, the furry mascot was noticeably absent.

The Queer Student Cultural Center filed a complaint Friday with the University Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action regarding the athletics department’s decision to exclude Goldy from the event because it was “politically controversial.”

After a month and a half of trying to contact the athletics department about Goldy’s appearance with no response, students at Lavender Graduation assumed it was only a mix-up, said Mike Grewe, co-chairperson of the QSCC.

“People were disappointed,” Grewe said. “But we thought it was just a miscommunication.”

One hour after the ceremony, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office received an e-mail from mascot coach Jon Hart, stating that Goldy could not appear at political events.

“We both can agree that there are some politically motivated issues involved here,” Hart wrote in the e-mail.

Jen Mohnkern, who spoke at Lavender Graduation this year, said she was disturbed by Hart’s reference to GLBT people as a political issue.

“GLBT people in general and GLBT families have been considered a wedge issue,” Mohnkern said. “It’s a political move to make the entire issue of gay rights a political issue.”

Mohnkern said the QSCC never has asked Goldy to appear at any issue-based events. She said Goldy made appearances at Spring Pride in the past, which is antidiscrimination and anti-oppression rather than political.

“That’s about treating people as human beings, and that’s what Lavender Graduation is,” she said.

Daniel Wolter, vice president of University Relations, said the University has acknowledged that the decision was a mistake and extends its apologies to those attending Lavender Graduation.

The University made the athletics department the single source for arranging Goldy appearances, rather than having two Goldys – one in University Relations and one in athletics, Wolter said. He attributed the mistake to added pressure and inadequate staff support for Hart.

“We’re not trying to blame anybody here – we’re just trying to prevent it from happening again,” he said.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said Hart made the decision without consulting his superiors first.

“Jon is new to making these decisions and I don’t think meant any harm,” he said.

Maturi also said he feels bad that Goldy was not able to be at the event.

“I found out after the fact, and so I can’t fix that one, other than to apologize, which we have done,” he said.

Grewe said both the QSCC and the GLBT Programs Office received a phoned apology from Scott Ellison, Hart’s supervisor, but found it unsatisfactory.

The QSCC and the GLBT Programs Office are seeking apologies for everyone who attended Lavender Graduation, as well as suggesting ally training about GLBT issues, Grewe said.

Julie Sweitzer, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action at the University, did not comment on the specific details of the issue.

“The one thing I can say is the athletics department has been very responsive and very concerned to try and set this right,” she said.

John Felipe, assistant director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, said the office does not have the jurisdiction to make sanctions, but if there is a violation in policy, it’s up to the administration of the department involved to try to remedy the situation.

Anne Phibbs, director of the GLBT Programs Office, said that although her office will not be filing a complaint, it will communicate with the athletics department.

“I did find the e-mail (from Hart) full of misinformation and offensive because it assumed that the GLBT community on this campus is more controversial and politicized than the community of athletics itself,” Phibbs said.

“I could make the argument that with the stadium, athletics is political,” she said.

Phibbs said she thinks the athletics department wants to make amends regarding the issue.

“I don’t ascribe malicious intent in any way to what happened,” she said.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the decision was discriminatory, she said.

Her community was denied a resource that “every student on this campus deserves,” she said.

“I would be happy to have a discussion with Mr. Hart and Mr. Maturi about why thinking about my community that way was misguided,” Phibbs said.

The decision points out the need for the GLBT Programs Office and the QSCC, she said.

“It shows that there’s a tremendous amount of education that needs to take place.”