Gay Rights | Tennessee

College Assignment Promoting Tolerance Causes Uproar

A professor at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tennessee has come under fire for an assignment she gave to her psychology class, aimed at creating empathy for gays and lesbians, The Tennessean reports:

Collegevue"At issue is an assignment in a class taught this spring by psychology professor Linda Brunton. Students claim they were required to wear a rainbow ribbon and make public statements in support of gay rights. They were then assigned to write a paper about the reactions they got from other people.

Lawyers from the Phoenix-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, said they received complaints from Christian students in Brunton’s class who oppose gay rights.

Travis Barham, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, claimed in a letter to Columbia State that the assignment was illegal.

'Dr. Brunton’s assignment violates decades (of) clearly established law by compelling students to support in public views they either do not wish to advocate or find abhorrent,' Barham wrote."

While there appear to be conflicting reports as to whether the assignment was mandatory, at least one student, Jeff Vernon, who took a class taught by Brunton two years ago, recalls a similar assignment that was voluntary and offered for extra credit. Vernon, who did not participate, told The Tennessean,

“It did not affect my grade. It did make for an uncomfortable situation.”

The assignment, entitled "“Promoting Increased Understanding of Sexual Diversity through Experience Learning," also caused controversy in the local community, drawing the ire of nearby Collegevue Church of Christ and its minister, Greg Gwin.  Of particular offense to Gwin and the students who filed the complaint is the claim allegedly leveled by Brunton that those who oppose gay rights are, "uneducated bigots”:

"On Wednesday, the church changed its sign to read, 'CSCC [Columbia State Community College]: God is not an ‘Uneducated Bigot’ Rom 1:26,27.'

'I am increasingly disgusted by the intolerance of those who claim to promote tolerance,' Gwin said."

In a statement issued to the AP, College officials stated that they have begun an investigation into the matter.

(photo via The Tennessean)


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  1. God may not be an uneducated bigot -- but a good many christians are...

    Posted by: Alex Parrish | Jun 23, 2013 7:17:20 PM

  2. People who believe in sky godz should be hospitalized.

    Posted by: ArkArk | Jun 23, 2013 7:34:37 PM

  3. God isn't a bigot but his self professed henchmen are.

    From now on when dealing with the church I want proof.
    Show me where God appointed you to speak for him.

    Posted by: JONES | Jun 23, 2013 7:35:01 PM

  4. i say show me educated could the deity, that got slavery wrong, be??

    Posted by: epic | Jun 23, 2013 7:39:32 PM

  5. Consider the alternative here--a professor who gave an assignment (voluntary or not) having students go into the community and telling them to say that they believe gay people aren't equal. That would be improper, too.

    From a tactical angle--stories like this will be exploited ad nauseum. So if the professor's goal really was to promote "diversity," she almost certainly failed.

    Posted by: Mark | Jun 23, 2013 7:53:39 PM

  6. I guess in the future colleges won't be able to teach anything controversial because the poor fundamentalist Christians might get upset. It would be so helpful if the fundamentalist Christians will make a complete list of topics that hurt their tender little hearts.

    Posted by: homer | Jun 23, 2013 8:22:22 PM

  7. sorry, the point of college is to learn. and learning means finding out, as many young people find out, that everything treated as canon on their family and community and religious denomination may very well be a steaming load of crap.

    sorry that they've been struggling with the realization that the lessons their parents imparted are bigoted, hateful, ignorant and without merit.

    it's not the teacher's fault that those parents didn't do their proper job and prepare their kids for the real world.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jun 23, 2013 8:39:39 PM

  8. homer: Maybe the fundamentalist Christians should just stick to Christian colleges. The Christian colleges don't want gays to attend them, after all. Problem solved.

    Posted by: Ryan | Jun 23, 2013 9:39:02 PM

  9. Gay is a sexuality, not a rainbow ribbon. It's easy to upset people, but these students should keep in mind how foolish they look getting themselves off. That might put sex in a more private light.

    Posted by: TJ | Jun 23, 2013 9:43:28 PM

  10. Tennessee has the "don't say gay" law so I think it was appropriate for students to experience the consequence of living in a hostile state.

    Posted by: Robbie Horn | Jun 23, 2013 10:00:20 PM

  11. I wonder if there is more to this story. I can see why the students were uncomfortable....they would have to become subject to the rudeness they give to LBGT individuals. From a scientific perspective it was brilliant.

    Posted by: Todd | Jun 23, 2013 10:17:30 PM

  12. There is no "brilliance" to it. You sound like a sadist.

    Posted by: TJ | Jun 23, 2013 10:25:21 PM

  13. It's a psychology class. It was a psychological experiment to challenge student's preconceived notions. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

    Posted by: shawnthesheep | Jun 23, 2013 11:14:49 PM

  14. Don't challenge our heterosexual-only beliefs is the message these students have sent out.

    Posted by: Billy Crytical | Jun 24, 2013 12:09:45 AM

  15. Robbie Horn: The Don't Say Gay law never passed. Further, students shouldn't be 'punished' due to circumstances largely beyond their control.

    Posted by: Garrett | Jun 24, 2013 12:20:51 AM

  16. The account is unfortunately ambiguous. One reading of it was that they were supposed to wear a rainbow ribbon and make pro-gay statements, and then record the reaction they got. That's a crude experiment. If "in public" means simply making the statement to people they don't know or to people they do know (who would be clued in after the data is collected), that is quite different from making pro-gay statements that would appear in a newspaper or that were made at a public hearing.

    It would probably have been better (and maybe this is what actually happened) if the professor asked for volunteers who would record the data, with everyone in the class then analyzing the results independently.

    Posted by: Bill | Jun 24, 2013 12:25:54 AM

  17. I'm going a bit against the tide of comments here, but I'm uncomfortable with this assignment. Yes, college should be a time when students are exposed to new viewpoints and invited to critically reflect on the ways they view and interact with the world.

    But pushing people into espousing beliefs in a public way, beliefs that they may not know how to think through and that may invoke hostility from strangers, just creates a needlessly stressful and perhaps dangerous learning environment.

    I'm all for promoting debate and for getting people to directly experience the consequences of injustice, but this assignment reads more as a political exercise than a learning opportunity.

    Posted by: Matte | Jun 24, 2013 12:59:18 AM

  18. The reference on the sign is to a part of a letter which Paul (who during Jesus' lifetime had participated in the persecution of Christians) wrote to express HIS opinion upon seeing a religious cult that worshipped birds and reptiles, where straight, married men and women got into a sexual orgy with others in the pews using bird and reptile idols.

    It has nothing to do with gay people and the rights that they seek in 21st-century America.

    Posted by: GregV | Jun 24, 2013 1:25:49 AM

  19. So, a public community college conducts an update to the "black like me" experiment and now it's an abrogation of students' sensibilities?

    I thought college was supposed to challenge our preconceived notions.

    Posted by: Acronym Jim | Jun 24, 2013 1:45:12 AM

  20. So you're saying, if a professor gave me, a gay man, a similar assignment to go out into the community and express myself as a Christian, anti-gay bigot, and see what kind of reactions I get, that would be ok? It's a g'damn assignment intended to get you out of your comfort zone and, you know, "learn" something. If they are too stupid to get that, yes, they are uneducated, ignorant, and frankly demonstrate an inability to earn a bachelors degree in anything.

    Posted by: SoLeftImRight | Jun 24, 2013 2:42:40 AM

  21. "Promoting tolerance" or endorsing homosexuality. Parents spending thousands to send their kids to school shouldn't have to worry about who -- or rather WHAT -- they'll bring home after graduation.

    Posted by: Ziemba | Jun 24, 2013 2:53:55 AM

  22. Odd, I remember being part of a similar project in the 6th grade. Those of us with blue eyes had to wear an arm band, and were treated as second-class citizens. We had to wait for everyone else to use a drinking fountain before we could, we were the last to leave the classroom, last in line for the washroom and were to be last in line for lunch. We never made it that far. There were almost instantly fights popping up between those wearing the arm band and those who were not (the majority) The teacher called off the experiment before lunch, congratulating us. We were puzzled at her congratulations. She said it ended like this for the past 12 years she had done this same experiment. Everything devolved into petty squabbles, no learning was taking place, and there was a real threat of physical injury. No, I think these students really got their moneys' worth, especially the ones who complained. Now they know how it feels. This teacher should be commended on the excellent job she did through this experiment. She succeeded. Tolerance most certainly needs to be taught...obviously, otherwise, there would not have been a single complaint...just like my 6th grade class. No one complained, because we all realized we all learned something that day. We realized how quickly we can slide into caveman behavior. We realized how easy it is for man to hate. We understood, if only for a moment, what it must have been like to be a Black in the slave South, to be a Jew in Nazi Germany, to be any member that society chooses to hate, at any given moment. We learned a lot that day. I hope it continues.

    Posted by: millerbeach | Jun 24, 2013 3:44:31 AM

  23. That assignment must the biggest crime in the world!

    Posted by: Matt26 | Jun 24, 2013 3:44:32 AM

  24. How dare those tolerant people promote love and acceptance, when true Christians know that God's love is conditional and judgemental?

    Posted by: Jack M | Jun 24, 2013 7:54:46 AM

  25. These kinds of assignments need to be neutral. If you do it one way, you also have to do it the other way. One day pro-gay, the next week anti-gay. THEN write the little paper and have class discussions.

    That is fair. Trying to forcefeed students your own moral viewpoint is never fair. Even anti-gays think they are doing so by 'good intention'. Let students make up your own mind. It's possible to guide without force.

    Posted by: Zeta | Jun 24, 2013 8:32:49 AM

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