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OPEN LETTER: Human Rights Council Demands More Inclusion, Diversity for Homecoming

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By: Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council (HRC) strives to advance human rights awareness and advocacy at SMU. This year marked HRC’s third time participating in Homecoming, an annual University event historically dominated by Greek organizations with mostly white members. HRC’s participation has opened an important avenue for the diverse SMU Human Rights student community to showcase its accomplishments and expand Mustang pride.

For the second year in a row, Student Foundation (SF), the organization in charge of Homecoming, has communicated and then reversed a gender-neutral Homecoming Royalty policy. Because the traditional process prevents full participation of all students in violation of SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity, we felt a responsibility to make this issue known and take action. We will be refusing to participate in Homecoming until SF implements a truly gender-neutral policy, and will be encouraging other organizations to do the same.

We hope you will read this letter, which outlines the history of the issue and the changes we are seeking. We are grateful to the organizations that have already joined us as co-signers by agreeing to boycott Homecoming until the listed changes are honored. We invite you to get involved in our efforts to build a more affirming campus for all.

Dear Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Kenechukwu (K.C.) Mmeje, Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Success and Chief of Staff for Student Affairs Dr. Adam R. Cebulski, Executive Director for Student Development and Diversity Officer for Student Affairs Jennifer (JJ) Jones, Director of the Women and LGBT Center Dr. Sidney Gardner, Associate Director for Student Center and Activities and Advisor for Student Foundation Lauren Chapman, and Student Foundation,

We, the Human Rights Council (HRC), write to you today with concern about diversity, equity, and inclusion at SMU. As the student board of the SMU Human Rights Program, it is our organizational mission to cultivate a deep understanding of and conscious commitment to human rights among SMU’s campus community. It is an honest desire to build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus that moves us to write this open letter.

For the second year in a row, Student Foundation (SF) has announced a gender-neutral Homecoming Royalty process and then reversed that decision.

Since our first year of participating in Homecoming in 2018, HRC has led advocacy for a gender-neutral Homecoming Royalty policy. The official 2020 Homecoming packet received by Homecoming Captains on Sunday, September 20th stated the following: “Similar to last year, organization[s] or teams may nominate two candidates for Homecoming Royalty, regardless of sex or gender identity.” The updated version of the official Homecoming packet sent to Homecoming captains on Wednesday, September 30th stated this exact same policy for Homecoming candidate selections. Phone and email communication between HRC’s Homecoming Captain and SF’s Homecoming Involvement Coordinator on Monday, September 14th confirmed that both the candidate selection and voting processes for Homecoming Royalty would be gender-neutral. It was further made clear that the voting ballot would be consolidated into a single page—rather than separated into a page with “Homecoming Queen” candidates and another page with “Homecoming King” candidates—so that each student would have two votes to cast in total for all candidates.

However, during voting for Homecoming Royalty from Monday, October 19th to Friday, October 23rd, HRC noticed that for the second year in a row, SF did not utilize a single voting page. To our surprise, voting was still separated based on gender identity. On the Connect.SMU ballot, each student was given two votes to cast: one for a “Homecoming King” candidate and another for a “Homecoming Queen” candidate. This separation of voting by gender meant that despite written and verbal commitment detailing otherwise, SF’s 2020 Homecoming Royalty policy was not gender-neutral in practice.

HRC’s Homecoming Captain communicated disappointment about the ballot to SF’s Homecoming Involvement Coordinator via text on Thursday, October 22nd. In an email to HRC’s Homecoming Captain about this matter on Sunday, October 25th, SF’s Homecoming Chair justified separating voting based on gender with a need to maintain “tradition” in the Homecoming process amid the new challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also important to note that the decision to separate the Homecoming Royalty voting ballot into two separate sections based on gender was not communicated to Homecoming Captains—through revisions to the official Homecoming packet or otherwise. HRC only found out about the change when organization members completed the voting process themselves. This lack of communication was a violation of SF’s commitment to notifying Homecoming Captains of any substantive changes to policies in a timely manner. We could only perceive this lack of communication as an attempt to avoid confrontation about the reversed decision.

SMU’s Statement of Nondiscrimination explicitly declares, “SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity includes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.” A gendered Homecoming Royalty process violates that statement by excluding members of the student body from full participation. HRC has tried to work with SF since 2018 to implement appropriate changes, but the problem persists.

Consequently, HRC and our co-signing organizations will be boycotting Homecoming participation until SF institutes and honors a fully gender-neutral Homecoming Royalty policy that:

1. Abolishes all uses of gendered language in the Homecoming process, including the phrases “Homecoming Queen” and “Homecoming King”;
2. Enables all participating organizations to nominate up to two candidates for Homecoming Royalty, regardless of sex or gender identity;
3. Provides all students the opportunity to cast votes for up to two candidates for Homecoming Royalty on a single ballot page that is not separated by sex or gender identity; and
4. Selects winners and runners-up for Homecoming Royalty in a gender-neutral manner.

We recognize and appreciate SF for the effort the organization has put into making Homecoming more inclusive. However, SF’s repeated failure to implement a gender-neutral Homecoming Royalty policy demonstrates that there is still a long way to go in making participation fully welcoming and equitable for all individuals and organizations. Considering the responsibility of the Division of Student Affairs to ensure that students grow in “sincere respect and regard for others,” we ask Divisional leaders to advise SF in permanently enacting a Homecoming process that honors stated SMU values and ensures that every Mustang, regardless of identity, can be welcomed home.

Gratefully,
The Human Rights Council

Co-Signing Organizations (as of December 1st):
Armstrong Commons
Boaz Commons
College Hispanic American Students (CHAS)
Crum Commons
Loyd Commons
McElvaney Commons
Virginia-Snider Commons

If you are a member of an organization that has participated in Homecoming and decided against co-signing this letter, HRC encourages you to ask your organization’s leadership why. If you are a member of an organization that wishes to co-sign, please email HRC’s Vice Administrative Director Bethany Bass at bdbass@smu.edu.

This letter will be updated with new co-signing organizations, and you can keep up with HRC’s work by following SMU Human Rights on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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