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.

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)



  1. JONES says

    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.

  2. Mark says

    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.

  3. says

    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.

  4. says

    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.

  5. Ryan says

    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.

  6. TJ says

    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.

  7. Robbie Horn says

    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.

  8. Todd says

    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.

  9. shawnthesheep says

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

  10. Billy Crytical says

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

  11. Garrett says

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

  12. Bill says

    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.

  13. Matte says

    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.

  14. GregV says

    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.

  15. Acronym Jim says

    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.

  16. SoLeftImRight says

    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.

  17. Ziemba says

    “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.

  18. millerbeach says

    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.

  19. Jack M says

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

  20. Zeta says

    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.

  21. Zeta says

    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

    How dare anyone tell me that my God and their God are the same. Again, forcefeeding is b.s. People on this site would rightly protest a school promoting anti-gay assignments masquerading as schoolwork. By the same token, pro-gay assignments are just as wrong.

    When did presenting all options, then letting people make up their own mind — even if it’s a different opinion than what you would prefer they have — become forbidden?

  22. Zeta says

    @ millerbeach, must have been a very small school if you guys had the same teacher all day. I’ve gone to small schools and large schools, myself.

    What caught my eye (beyond your teacher subjecting you guys to a very old experiment), is if she’s been doing the same assignment for 12 years, and the result was *always* violence….. isn’t it possible that the teacher subconsciously rewarded and encouraged violent behavior? and that it wasn’t all about the students just exhibiting caveman behavior instinctually?

    Especially if she congratulated you guys for being violent towards one another. Sounds like she wanted to see you guys exhibit such behavior. I find it hard to believe that in 12 years, at the same school (with some students also presumeably having older siblings go through her same class), no students caught on.

    Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. If you guys didn’t make it past lunch, exactly what did your teacher make your class do to treat the armbanders as second-class citizens?

  23. Zeta says

    People who believe in sky godz should be hospitalized.

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

    That gives me a chuckle. I wish I could find that quote from the atheist who was puzzled that the people who hew most closely to their God’s commands are branded negatively — as fundamentalists.

    Anyway, I looked up the verse in the picture above, Romans 1:26-27… but then I also read the verses directly above it (only one of which I’ll post here). Suffice to say, I believe Andy trolled himself (and all GLBTQ) by choosing that photo:

    Romans 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    Romans 1:26 – For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    Romans 1:27 – And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

  24. Zeta says

    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

    I agree. And @Bill, I agree with you about a possible better way to present this assignment, if it has to be done.

  25. says

    Under their own religious math, god would love all people, even gays, and want them to have rights, he just wouldn’t want them to be part of a sodam and Gomorrah situation.

  26. Drew says

    So tired of “you’re the intolerant one, tolerant person.” Yes, because there is literally no difference between arguing for legal freedoms and expressing a legal (if impolite) viewpoint about people who do not share your views; and arguing for a lack of legal freedoms and hate speech.

  27. RexT says

    Sounds like an excellent Psychology class and assignment. Regardless of who opts out of wearing the identify item for 3 day, this class assignment results in the students using real time psychological impact. I’d expect nothing less from the unfortunate ‘opposing student’ – another persecuted young adult unable to participate in an open environment where sexuality is discussed as it offends their personal religious ‘belief.’ Starting with the simple fact, there is nothing to learn as homosexuality is a behavior choice by a heterosexual sinner who has been drawn into the gay lifestyle by the work of the devil. Thus, the Heterosexual with SSM attraction is broken, and in need of repair – and/or cure. Next thing you know, Brian Brown, Maggie Gallagher and the Gang of Thugs at NOM will have this student up and on the wall of those who have been forced to submit through exposure, information about the Gay Agenda. Obviously, there is no science or relative reason to even consider human sexuality in a College Level Psychology class as all human sexuality in 2013 is defined by the Bible and those born to educate all others on living their lives through scripture.