Salem College students protest the institution’s silence concerning HB2

by Pat Berryhill

The subject of HB2 is a hot topic everywhere in North Carolina. It is especially relevant at Salem College, seated within and a part of Old Salem in downtown Winston Salem.

Salem is a predominantly women’s liberal arts school and has an active and notable population of LGBTQIA students and staff. The students have been vocal and engaged on campus and within the community against HB2. They began addressing the issue at their home by sending out an email for fellow students, staff, and alumni to sign a “petition (for) Salem College to issue a statement regarding HB2 and the safety of LGBTQ Salem community members.”

Two hundred and seventy one signatures were collected and presented to the board of trustees and the president who then issued a statement, via email, in response:

“While the meaning and ramifications of the new law are still being debated by government officials and attorneys, and while the protection of employment rights and access to public accommodations in Part 3 of the law applies, at least in part, to both public and private entities, our current understanding is that the new law will not necessitate any changes in Salem Academy and College’s policies and procedures in terms of protected rights and bathroom and changing facilities.”

This was not the statement in its entirety, but paraphrased, it spoke of continued support for the members of the community but without a formal statement against HB2.

An argument could be made for the history of the establishment being grounded in religion. Also relevant, the school is a private college and depends upon private donations. Potentially, some of those organizations could also have religious affiliations. However, I spoke with Christina Novation, a Fleer student at Salem who has stepped up as a public representative for the movement, and her reply to the argument was one worth repeating.

“We know that funding might be a barrier for Salem College to make a statement opposing HB2 due to its religious and conservative background. However, we believe that the President and the Board of Trustees should stand with and prioritize students because they are here to serve the student body first before anything else. Funding is essential to this institution in order to receive scholarships and grants, and we appreciate the amount of funding that has been provided to students so far; however, if funding is such a concern then perhaps Salem should find alternative funders who align with the student body’s values and beliefs.”

As a result of the lack of support the community feels they are receiving, a call went out for a peaceful and public demonstration. Flyers went out for students to rally on Tuesday at noon in front of the student center at Salem to protest the lack of response because “No statement is still a statement.” Students wore black or purple to show solidarity and brought umbrellas. The flyers listed three reasons why HB2 is “more than just a bathroom bill”:

Discrimination against LGBT+ people is legal (sections 3.1, 3.3) Discrimination cases can no longer be filed in NC state courts (section 3.2) Municipalities cannot enforce a wage higher than minimum wage (section (2.2-2.3) Salem has been somewhat supportive of the community in the past, being one of the first colleges in the area to install gender-neutral bathrooms on campus last year. So the student frustration now is palpable, as it appears the full impact of HB2 upon the community at Salem is lost upon the board.

About 40 students filed out of dorms, promptly, at noon. They carried signs, umbrellas, leaflets, and a bullhorn. The demonstration began with a line in front of the student center at noon where most of the student body and faculty convene for lunch. They marched in a circle around the center open sidewalk area and chanted carrying signs proclaiming, among other things, #HB2takesusbackto1772, the year Salem College was established by the Moravians. The movement then marched to the President’s home. Once it was determined that she was not there, they walked to the inspector’s house and chanted. They knocked and then taped the list of their demands upon the door. The inspector’s house is relevant because this is where students go to file grievances pertaining to sexual discrimination.

A list of demands was also taped to Susan Calovini’s door, the Dean of College/VP Academic & Student Affairs. Other copies of the list were passed out to the student body and members of the public as the group walked back to the Student Center, chanting along the way. They received no response from any of the staff, the president or board members during the demonstration and chose to disperse shortly after it was evident there would be no immediate reply. It is unknown at this time if there will be any further action taken, but the group is tight knit and appears adamant about continued involvement in activism and taking a stance. !