NEIU Engages in Dialogues on Lech Walesa’s comments

Luis Badillo, Writer

Dr. Tony Adams (left) and Wojciech Wloch (right) - Courtesy of NEIUlife's youtube video.
Dr. Tony Adams (left) and Wojciech Wloch (right) – Courtesy of NEIUlife’s youtube video.

Lech Walesa’s anti-gay comments still have many students wondering how to feel regarding the building he is named after, Lech Walesa Hall. “They have to know that they are a minority and must adjust to smaller things. And not rise to the greatest heights, the greatest hours, the greatest provocations, spoiling things for the others and taking from the majority” Said Walesa on television earlier in March. The comments have hit close to home especially with the LGBTQA students, as well with the school’s administration.


To promote discourse and to help better decide on how to move forward, Northeastern Illinois University ( NEIU) promoted a “Lech Walesa University Dialogue” event. On Thursday March 28, students and faculty gathered in the Golden Eagles Room to allow three panelists to share their views on the comments made by Walesa, as well as allow the forum to have a question and answer session afterwards.
Each of the three panelists presented a different “lens” not just regarding the comments made, but also in regards to the man himself.
NEIU President, Sharon Hahs, took the podium and began the event. “His comments are completely contrary to our values” Hahs emphasized. She also addressed the petition brought forth to potentially change the name of the Lech Walesa Hall. “Today we have a wonderful panel to provide background, address the complexity of the problem from each of their unique perspectives”
Dr. Tony Adams, Assistant Professor of Communications presenting the LGBTQA lens. Adams spoke of his professional and personal struggles in regards to coming out of the closet. He asked his audience to ponder “What if someone for whom a building is named on this campus made a similar statement about a particular group- Maybe even Polish students… What action would we take?”
Wojciech Wloch, the second panelist, is the Coordinator of International Partnerships for NEIU. As a native of Poland, Wloch presented his talk through a political and historical perspective. Much of the speech described a Poland invaded by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and an oppressive government in the sixties and seventies where leaders such as Lech Walesa inspired many. “Here is Walesa the icon- a man capable of keeping millions of people excited for the fight against the status quo.”
Wloch describes the same Walesa, who later after becoming Poland’s president also started to lose touch with the times. “He mentally moved towards the extreme and uneducated conservatism.” He adds, “Here is another Walesa- Walesa the man, not the icon. A man who fell behind the wind of change he fulminated.” When presented with this duality, Wloch said “Think about which Walesa we named the building after in the first place- Walesa, the icon? Or Walesa, the man?”
The last presenter, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Richard Helldobler, presented the academic lens. Helldobler too told the audience a bit of his background as an openly gay male. However, the real focus of his talk was to consider the academic response to Walesa’s comments. “We must value dissident voices” said Helldobler. Though he made it clear he did not support Walesa’s comment, he indicated that it should be the duty of the university to protect dissenting voices. “If we silence voices, do we become what we don’t want?”
During the Q&A session, NEIU student Janie McGraw asked the forum “What are we telling our students?” in regards to having Walesa’s name on a building. Dr. Barbara Sherry of the First Year Experience program stood and asked, “What if these comments had been made about Blacks, or Latinos?”
Bianca Bella, an NEIU student who is with the GLBTQA club in NEIU, shared how she herself struggles with family accepting her identity. But she also said that the issues don’t just belong to to the LGBTQA community. “I want us to be more inclusive. I want the entire campus to decide what to do.”
NEIU recorded the panelists’ talks, and have since made them available through the Ronald Williams Library. More information on NEIU’s response including notes on the following roundtable discussions is available online through NEIUport under “Campus Initiatives” section.