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Hamline Wesley Award winners request honors be annulled over school's gay marriage stance

Schumacher (left) and Ramchandani (right), 'no longer recognize the integrity of the governing body' that honored them with the Wesley Award.
Schumacher (left) and Ramchandani (right), 'no longer recognize the integrity of the governing body' that honored them with the Wesley Award.
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Colin Schumacher and Shona Ramchandani, two recipients of Hamline's prestigious John Wesley Award, have requested the annulment of their honors after school administration decided to remain neutral on the Minnesota marriage amendment.

SEE ALSO: Hamline professor Stephen Kellert calls on university administration to come out against Minnesota marriage amendment

"I can no longer stand by a governing body that cannot stand by the same values of
 leadership and inclusion that the Wesley Award was designed to recognize," Schumacher wrote in a letter addressed to President Linda Hanson and the Hamline Board of Trustees. "I formally request that my 2003 Wesley Award be annulled. Accordingly, I 
request that name be removed from all public records of the award."

The dual requests continue the backlash Hanson and the board have experienced after she announced the school would remain neutral on the marriage amendment last Monday. On Wednesday, 85 percent of Hamline's faculty voted to approve a resolution stating, "We... oppose the marriage amendment that seeks to enshrine discrimination in the constitution of the state of Minnesota."

The John Wesley Award is given annually to the undergraduate or graduate student "who best demonstrate[s] a commitment to leadership and service that lies at the heart of Hamline University."

Schumacher won the award in 2003. He now works as an elementary teacher in New York City. Ramchandani, the '04 recipient, now works with the Minnesota Historical Society.

To read the full text of Schumacher's letter to Hanson and the board, click to page two. For Ramchandani's, check out page three.

 

Dear President Hanson and Hamline Board of Trustees,

In 2003, I was the recipient of the prestigious John Wesley Leadership and Service Award. I never imagined a day would come when the significance of that award and the institutional values it defined would feel so hollow.

Your decision to not take a public stance against the Minnesota Marriage Amendment is wrong, it is cowardly, and it betrays an intellectual community charged with upholding values of inclusion and social justice.

Enshrining discrimination into the Minnesota State Constitution is not an issue deserving of further inquiry. It is abhorrent. When the human rights of your coworkers, students, friends, family, fellow Minnesotans, fellow humans are debased there is no appropriate response other than unequivocal opposition. That is the teachable moment. Opposing discrimination in all forms is supposed to represent institutional integrity for Hamline.

Unfortunately, such administrative missteps are not new to Hamline. As a first-year student in 2001 I attended a community forum to discuss whether or not the university should partner with the Boy Scouts of America. The fact that Hamline's administration had even put to debate a partnership with an organization that so openly discriminated against LGBT people felt like an act of betrayal. I vividly recall several students and faculty members ending their remarks in tears.

The administration eventually issued an apology but in the weeks that followed, there were several hate incidents targeted at LGBT members of our community. The "civil debate" had grown toxic and a new forum was held to create a working document for responding to hate incidents and hate crimes.

Several years later, a group of students, including myself, called upon Hamline Law School to join a coalition of law schools filing suit against the Solomon Amendment, a federal law that made campus military recruiting a perquisite for receiving federal aid. Under the law, universities began making exceptions in their nondiscrimination policies for military recruiters, despite the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Regrettably, the university chose to remain neutral and missed a historic opportunity.

I am currently a 4th/5th grade teacher at a public elementary school on New York City's Lower East Side, one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods. I am dually certified in special education and general education and co-teach in a classroom with general education students and students with labeled disabilities. My teaching life is about inclusion. I learn from my students every day about the struggles, joy, and empathy wrapped up in that ideal. I am proud to be teaching in a state that has publicly affirmed marriage equality because it makes my pedagogy all the more meaningful. There is no doubt in my mind or that of my colleagues that our students will live in a world in which marriage equality is realized nationwide and the actions and inaction of individuals and institutions during this historic struggle for civil rights will be closely scrutinized.

I have tremendous respect for the students, faculty, and staff of Hamline who continue to pursue and defend the university's values. The missteps of administrative leadership on these issues have been endemic, however, and I fear for the future of an institution that consistently fails to lend institutional support to its core foundational values.

I can no longer stand by a governing body that cannot stand by the same values of leadership and inclusion that the Wesley Award was designed to recognize. I therefore formally request that my 2003 Wesley Award be annulled. Accordingly, I request that my name be removed from all public records of the award. Alternatively, my name may be affixed with an asterisk and footnote reading, "No longer recognizes the integrity of the governing body conferring this award." I will be strongly encouraging fellow award-winners to do the same and to take vocal public stances against your neutrality on this issue. I would like to give you a few days to respond to this letter before I do this.

Sincerely,

Colin Schumacher
Class of 2005, B.A. Psychology and Social Justice
M.A. Teachers College, Columbia University
Curriculum & Teaching, Inclusive Elementary Education


 

Dear President Hanson (and the Board of Trustees),

I am writing as the undergraduate Wesley Award recipient Wesley Scholar and President of Student Congress at Hamline in 2004, and as an alumna and a proponent of Hamline. I am also writing as so many more things - a volunteer, a former student worker, RA, SOS leader, student awardee, CLA '05 and MALS '09 graduate... and most of all, as an ally. I have always cared deeply for Hamline, because it is the place that fostered my social justice beliefs and gave them depth, accuracy and clarity. It also helped build my leadership skills so that I could lend my voice to speak in behalf of those who are disenfranchised and for the causes that put human rights and human dignity and respect above all else. And now I am writing to you because we are now at a crossroads where Hamline - this very place that taught me about respecting and fostering diversity - is now standing opposite me on an issue that I see to be fundamentally about human rights. It should not matter who we are for us to have the same rights as others, and we should not, in the 21st century, still be having "conversations" about issues that are about human beings having equal rights. And this is about people having the ability to express their love the same way generations of Americans have before them, not about hurting or harming anyone else.

Dr. Hanson, and other female Trustees - had it not been for the suffragettes, you may not be where you are today, and for other Trustees - had it not been for the Civil Rights movement and other social justice movements, many of you would not have had these opportunities yourselves. As an alumna of color, I could not have married the love of my life, who is white, and as an immigrant, I could not have stayed here to be with him had our marriage not been recognized legally. We all stand on the shoulders of those who stood up for our rights - those who have fought for freedoms that were almost not ours. Now we are in a position to decide whether we, in turn, will stand in support of those who are trying to get the same rights that we have, and I cannot imagine how we could say "no." Neutrality never won anyone their rights, and abstaining is the same as saying "nay." In fact, I find it debatable that we can call Hamline's stance "neutrality" when it is framing the debate on the right to marry as a point that Hamline wishes to "discuss" rather than as a human rights conversation. I don't know who made the decision, who informed the decision and why they made the decision, but I can tell you that this decision does not reflect my experience at Hamline, my fellow alums and, from what I hear, the Hamline community either, so it is hard for me to defend Hamline's position if it is one that does not reflect a majority of the people who carry its name out into world.

As you may already have heard from Colin Schumacher, I am joining him in his request to have our Wesley awards annulled because I cannot accept an award that was given in the spirit of John Wesley's values of doing all the good we can ... to all the people we can, when the people who confer it have decided not to do so with this recent (and hopefully temporary) decision. As a new donor, I also plan to withhold any future funding and any future fundraising in behalf of Hamline until it reneges on its "neutrality" stance, and I will also not be attending the October 4th President's Circle Dinner and Alumni Weekend this year and in future years until things change.

I do not understand to whom we are doing any good by taking this stance, but I strongly believe that voting "no" on the marriage amendment in November will do far more good than doing nothing. And so it is, ironically, in the very spirit of John Wesley that I request the University to annul my Wesley award, until the day that Hamline decides to re-align itself with the words and the mission that it has instilled in us as its students.

Respectfully,

Shona Ramchandani
Donor 2012
Former Co-Chair of the GOLD Alumni Board
Current GOLD Alumni board member


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