Two categories not to be found in Morehouse’s Equal Opportunity Employment clause: gender and sexual orientation. Yet, it appears the college gathers these groups under the umbrella term “sex.” The exclusion raises several questions about the vagueness of the clause. Should the college be more explicit in outlining the groups it does not discriminate against?
“There’s no need to change the policy because … of the changes in popular vernacular,” General Counsel Lacrecia Cade said. “People should know that women and people in the [LGBTQ] community are protected.”
But what does the clause actually say? According to the college’s official handbook, the college does not discriminate on the basis of “sex”:
“Morehouse College is a private institution committed to equal opportunity as a basic human right. Morehouse College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs and activities,” the clause reads.
Compare the Morehouse clause to the one listed in nearby Spelman College’s Employee Handbook:
“Spelman College does not discriminate in employment opportunities on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, gender, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital, protected veteran status, genetic tests, genetic information or any other legally protected status.”
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), the entity that oversees anti-discrimination compliance in the workplace, was founded as a bipartisan commission in 1965 to protect the very groups identified in Morehouse’s and Spelman’s respective statements.
A look at the equal opportunity statements at the country’s top liberal arts colleges revealed that sexual orientation and gender are stated in explicit terms. At Williams College, Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley, and Bowdoin (the top five liberal arts schools in the country) equal opportunity encompasses “sex” and a number of different categories including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender.
According to Cade, Morehouse’s EEO clause does adhere to the EEOC’s guidelines. The term “sex” in its technical sense is a shorthand reference to a broader set of categories including gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. However, does the term leave room for ambiguity given the explicit language other schools have adopted?
Some say yes. Moreover, some students think the absence of specific references to gender and sexual orientation points toward a larger institutional problem. In an op-ed following a recent incident of homophobia involving the Morehouse football team at a screening of “Dear White People” in South Carolina, SafeSpace president Marcus Lee tied the absence of gender and sexual orientation to a slew of issues facing the college.
“[There] are many faculty and staff members – including the president of the college, the Office of Student Life, several professors, etc. – that embrace us. However, Morehouse’s curricula, institutional policies and procedures do not reflect this embrace. There are no Black queer studies courses, gender and sexual orientation are absent from our employment nondiscrimination policy, we have a dress code that outlaws wearing ‘female attire,’ we have an inactive diversity committee, and the list continues.”
Beyond the questions surrounding the clause itself, in a recent statement Vice President of Student Development Timothy Sams promised an institutional embrace of gay students on campus. What this means specific to the concern Lee pointed out about sexual orientation remains to be seen.
“Because this issue [of homophobia] applies to our broader campus community, I am forming a task force to … to look at policies and practices at the College that hinder our LGBTQA community from flourishing and to catalyze the College’s creation of a ‘safe space’ on campus,” Sams said.
Senior Staff Writer – Campus News