As much as President Gibson would like to argue that the Lech Walesa Hall (LWH) issue is a complex one, it is not. Polish politician and Noble Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa has made a series of homophobic comments and refuses to apologize for them. His actions have made a major component of the NEIU student body feel unsafe and marginalized. It is the president’s duty to ensure the safety and well-being of all students at NEIU. She is failing in that charge.
NEIU’s Executive Director of Institutional Research and Assessment, Blaise Masini, provided the following information about current student demographics: 5938 (73.3%) do not identify as LGBTQ; 441 (5.4%) identify as LGBTQ and 1724 (21.3%) did not answer the question on the application or they applied before we started asking (approx. fall 2014).
Masini also said, “We don’t have solid data on sexual orientation for two reasons. One, we have only been collecting it from new freshmen and new transfer students for a few years. Second, because the question is optional, many students opt out.”
While we don’t have the clearest picture of how many NEIU students identify as LGBTQ, the fact is they make up a part of the student body, which makes NEIU special. Just because someone doesn’t identify themselves as LGBTQ, doesn’t mean they aren’t negatively impacted by homophobia and bigotry. The truth is, even if no students identified as LGBTQ, which is statistically improbable, the hall’s name should be changed. Walesa’s words and deeds do not represent NEIU.
I conducted a survey by asking thirty NEIU students if a building on campus was known as a homophobe should it be changed, 29 said yes, zero said no,and one was indifferent. That sample size shows a statistical majority. There is also the fact that former President Sharon Hahs vetoed the decision to change the name at the last minute.
Students and faculty have asked for the name to change and for some reason the powers that be at NEIU refuse to acknowledge them. Perhaps enrollment is low because NEIU doesn’t feel like a place that supports its students.
Sometimes when you love something, it is important to be critical of it to ensure it continues to change for the better. Allowing the name of a man, whose harmful rhetoric has damaged countless lives, to be proudly displayed at our school is in opposition of everything NEIU is supposed to stand for. To not condemn Walesa and his words is showing support for what he has said. Silence is agreement and the silence from Gibson and her office is deafening.