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Northeastern Illinois University's student-run newspaper

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Northeastern Illinois University's student-run newspaper

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“Homosexuals Should Even Sit Behind a Wall” – Lech Walesa, March 2013

Ryland Roberts
Outside sign of Lech Walesa Hall, in column on the side of the North Side campus building

 In a 2013 interview on TVN24, a Polish news station, Lech Walesa said “Homosexuals should even sit behind a wall, and not somewhere at the front,” regarding members of Poland’s parliament. He also stated, “They must know they are a minority and adapt themselves to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights.”

Walesa did not feel he was in the wrong, saying he did not “feel homophobic”. In an interview on March 4, 2013, he asserted that he would not apologize, stating “All I said [was] that minorities, which I respect, should not have the right to impose their views on the majority. I think most of Poland is behind me.”

Walesa, a devout Catholic labor activist, founded the first independent labor union, Solidarity, in Poland during communist rule. He went on to be elected as the president of Poland from 1990 to 1995. In 1983, Walesa received the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the nation’s problems without encouraging violence.

What follows is an overview of events at NEIU after Walesa made his March 2013 statements.

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The Classroom Building was renamed to Lech Walesa Hall (LWH), at NEIU, after the former Polish president in 2009 to honor his accomplishments.

Following Walesa’s statements in March 2013, students and faculty at NEIU began to protest the name of the building. The president of NEIU at the time, Sharon Hahs, denounced Walesa’s statements, saying, “President Walesa’s homophobic comments are completely contrary to the Values of Northeastern Illinois University, particularly our Value of Diversity.”

On March 28, 2013, less than a month after Walesa’s statements, NEIU held a panel called “Lech Walesa University Dialogue.” The three panelists gave differing viewpoints on Walesa, presenting the issue through the LGBTQ+ lens, as well as an academic and a political lens.

In addition to the dialogue, an art installation was commissioned by NEIU as an alternative to renaming the building. According to Dr. Brett Stockdill, a sociology professor at NEIU, “The art was supposed to commemorate the dialogue… to say ‘We talked about it.’”

“We had this discussion that trampled on the rights of queer people,” Dr. Stockdill said of the dialogue, “It’s easier to celebrate homophobia than to support queer and trans students and workers.”

A year later, on March 7, 2014, students and faculty were still protesting the name of the building. NEIU’s University Advisory Council (UAC) voted unanimously to recommend that President Hahs advise the NEIU Board of Trustees (BoT) to rename LWH. Hahs, however, refused the UAC’s recommendation. In an email to the university, Hahs said, “The motion itself was unexpected. Its effect, if implemented, would be to terminate the carefully worked-out response by our University community a year ago to comments made by President Walesa.”

Despite the refusal, students and faculty presented a petition to the BoT on April 10, 2014, with 400 signatures, asking that the board rename LWH.

Part of the art installation can still be seen today, entitled “Monument Occupied”, by BJ Krivanek. However, in 2018, the newly appointed president of NEIU, Dr. Gloria J. Gibson, took down the art installation inside Lech Walesa Hall, saying that it had “run its course.” The installation was moved to the University Archives.

The controversy over the name of Lech Walesa Hall continues today at NEIU. Some professors refuse to use the name, referring to it by its previous name, the Classroom Building. Others, such as Dr. Stockdill, refer to it by another name, “Living With Homophobia.”

In a statement to the Independent, Dr. Stockdill gave voice to the continuing legacy of Lech Walesa at NEIU, saying, “As a gay man, working in a building named after a homophobic bigot is a slap in the face. It feels like 1983 rather than 2023. The administration’s continued failure to change the name demonstrates its failure to prioritize the safety and well-being of LGBTQ students and workers.”

Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Professor, Laurie Fuller, believes that having one building named after someone who has stated such homophobic values at a “university committed to diversity is a travesty.” Professor Fuller prefers that the building be changed to “Learning Well Hall,” or, “Really just anything that does not honor discrimination and hatred.”

Faculty are not alone in taking notice of the controversy. During a Sept. 21 Student Government Senate meeting, Senate Vice President EJ Schumacher said they were aware of the issue. 

“I have heard whispers that someone from the WGS (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality) department… is looking into revitalizing the petition to change the name of LWH,” Schumacher said, before asking senators to engage with students, saying, “So if you hear anyone talking about it, just engage with them and ask questions and get thoughts.”

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About the Contributors
Ryland Roberts
Ryland Roberts, Online Editor
Ryland is studying Education at NEIU. Originally, He joined The Independent as a photographer in Fall 2023. Within the Fall 2023 semester, they gained the roles of Social Media Manager, Online editor, and staff writer. Only being at NEIU since Fall 2023, He is passionate about what he does and plans to hone his journalism skills while working at the newspaper.
Dan Maurer
Dan Maurer, News Editor
Dan Maurer is the News Editor for the NEIU Independent. He is pursuing a Bachelor’s in  Sociology at Northeastern Illinois University. He got his associates degree from the College of DuPage. His goal in life is to position himself to be able to speak truth to power and provide analysis and facts for informed decision making. He spends his time reading, listening to podcasts, and engaging with science-fiction media. He also hosts karaoke multiple evenings throughout the week.

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