A letter to President Tuminez: We want accountability

LGBT program director Emily Branvold meets with a student. Students in need can reach out for support. Photo by Christian Fullmer.

Dear President Tuminez,

I’m writing to you as both an LGBTQ UVU student and the mother of an LGBTQ UVU student.

I appreciate the challenges you have overcome to gain your position of leadership. As a fellow lover of literature and learning, and as a member of this institution’s intersectional margins, I look to you as a role model and champion of those of us at UVU who face additional hardship in attaining our education. This is why I am deeply troubled by the decision made by yourself and the Board of Trustees to invite Wendy Watson Nelson as UVU’s 2021 commencement speaker.

As mothers, you and I want the best for our children. I trust that, like me, you have encouraged yours to press through adversity to seek higher learning and opportunities to contribute and thrive in their communities. Unlike yours, my child does not experience the bigotry associated with race, but he does understand the stigma associated with poverty, his mother’s disability, growing up in a single-parent household, and existing as queer in a population of people who believe that his existence should somehow be eradicated. To say my son has not already suffered from these setbacks would be absurd. He has lived under an umbrella of criticism and disdain his entire life.

In 2018, Wendy Watson Nelson delivered a public speech in which she expressed hope that those of us who are part of the LGBTQ community would experience grief and “anguished desperation” in order to become what she believes queer people are born to be. Dr. Nelson, who is lauded for her achievements in family therapy, expressed, in essence, her desire for those of us who are queer to experience suffering because of who we are. It is of note that Dr. Nelson’s comments clash with present therapeutic protocols in counseling. I refer you to the practice guidelines adopted by the American Psychological Association released in 2010. In fact, I would argue that Dr. Nelson’s statements about LGBTQ people raise questions about her competency as a family therapist and certainly mean that she is not an appropriate commencement speaker at a school that touts inclusion as one of its values.

UVU’s declared mission statement of inclusivity is meant to promote and foster an academic environment of safety and belonging for its intersectional student body and faculty. I rely on this mission statement to protect me and my son, and to counter attitudes of animosity toward our identities as we pursue degrees from this institution. Dr. Nelson’s public comments bolster hostility toward queer people, and emboldens those who wish us further suffering and harm.

Both my son and I daily experience the ill-will of those outside of UVU who believe that we should not exist. We already suffer fear for our well-being and the discomfort of rejection by the broader community. I would expect that, as an immigrant and a woman of color, you would understand that such unchecked bigotry does not engender feelings of safety and belonging at UVU. While my son and I are expected to tolerate such disdain outside of our educational institution, I would hope that university leadership would do all it can to soothe and abate negative experiences of its LGBTQ students. I would hope you understand this is not a matter of mere disagreement.

I realize at this point, the invitation extended to Dr. Nelson would be difficult to rescind. But I speak on behalf of myself, my son, and other marginalized students in requesting that the university openly acknowledge this mistake, accept accountability for its failure to live up to UVU’s inclusive mission, and exercise greater caution in selecting future commencement speakers.

Sincerely,

Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen

1 thought on “A letter to President Tuminez: We want accountability

  1. Thank you for writing this letter! As the primary leader of the largest public university in Utah, I would hope that President Tuminez takes your suggestions seriously. In the 21st century, we can no longer ignore the importance of inclusion and diversity in public spaces, and I agree that Nelson’s position compromises her competency as a professional. May we continue to voice our concerns, until the minority’s voices reach the majority’s ears.

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