Students rally behind expansion of county discrimination code

Jessie Hellmann

A movement to broaden the county’s discrimination code to include sexual orientation and gender identity has gained student and faculty support at the University of Southern Indiana.

The Vanderburgh County Human Relations Commission is pushing the Vanderburgh County Commissioners to adopt the language so people can file complaints if they think they were discriminated against because of sexual orientation, gender identification, age and disability. The same language was added by the Evansville City Council in 2011.

The Student Government Association (SGA) signed a resolution to support broadening the code March 22 stating students have a right to be free from discrimination, and SGA encourages that the commissioners protect their constituent’s rights. 

“A big reason why I wanted SGA to pass (the resolution) was because it’s listed as a right in the student code of behavior that students have the right not to be discriminated against,” said Travis Dickison, liberal arts representative and author of the resolution.

Dickison said seeing opposition against broadening the code motivated him to write it, and he wants to partner with the University of Evansville to gather more support.

“Hopefully (the commissioners) will see that we want an amendment,” Dickison said. “We don’t want discrimination to be protected.”

Dickison and other SGA members plan to present the resolution at the next public hearing April 9. 

Junior psychology major Alex Kessler supports the broadening of the code and said it is great that SGA supports it, too.

“It finally shows that they are listening to us, and they really do care and have students in their minds,” Kessler said.

Kessler has been to all three commissioner hearings and spoke at the March 19 hearing.

“Everybody deserves to have equal rights,” Kessler said. “We’re all humans, and we just deserve to have the same rights as everybody else, regardless of anything that makes us ‘different’ or ‘not normal.’”

Kessler, who is in the process of transitioning from female to male, said he is used to being discriminated against.

“The opposing side, they would get up, and they would look at us as they were talking, and they were like, ‘It’s not about hate. We love you guys. You’re all children of God,’ but at the same time, if you love us how can you not give us rights?” he said.

“We could lose our jobs, and that’s not fair to our kids or our families,” Kessler said. “And how do you think that makes us feel? We feel like we’re nothing, and like we’re not humans.”

Assistant Psychology Professor Amie McKibban, who is in favor of changes in the discrimination ordinance, said it is wonderful that SGA is supporting it.

“I think it’s a great idea because USI isn’t technically within the city limits of Evansville. Anyone out here will be impacted by this non discrimination ordinance,” she said. “It’s nice to see that the Student Government Association is coming together and being civically engaged and active by writing a resolution that sends a message to our county commissioners, we’re here, we stand together, and we support all of our student body here at USI.”

While the passing of the ordinance will not make this kind of discrimination illegal, it will be a step forward in filing complaints and tracking instances of discrimination, she said.