Belmont University activists wary of new president

    Belmont University. (Photo: John Partipilo)
    Belmont University. (Photo: John Partipilo)

    Belmont University officials recently named Gregory Jones, Ph.D, its new president, but LGBTQ activists have expressed concerns about Jones’s previous inaction as an administrator regarding LGBTQ issues.

    Over the past year, Be Better Belmont (BBB), a coalition of Belmont students and alumni, has pushed students to be more vocal about participation the selection of Belmont’s administration. When Jones was announced as successor to retiring President Bob Fisher on Feb. 1, the group expressed concerns about the administration’s selection and Jones’ previous position as an administrator at Duke Divinity School, located in North Carolina. 

    Gregory Jones, Ph.D., President of Belmont University. (Photo: Belmont University)
    Gregory Jones, Ph.D., President of Belmont University. (Photo: Belmont University)

    The group specified an incident in 1998, when a Duke Divinity School bathroom displayed anti-LGBTQ graffiti for several months. When asked by students to remove the graffiti, Jones, then-dean of the divinity school, did not follow up. A student protest followed.

    Jones left Duke Divinity School in 2010, and Duke Divinity’s current administration continued to have protests as recently as 2018 for the better treatment of LGBTQ students and against the denouncement of same-sex marriages at the school.

    Be Better Belmonts advocates have yet to explicitly reach out to Jones but hope students push Jones to clearly discuss LGBTQ concerns.

    According to the Belmont Vision, Jones held a press conference on Feb. 2 to affirm his commitment to the Belmont community, stating that “It’s important for every member of the Belmont community, whatever their background, whatever their priorities, feel that they are a part of the Belmont community,” said Jones.

    “In order to make students feel comfortable, he needs to make an explicit statement about supporting and allowing students of all identities to feel safe on campus,” said Skyler Levine, a group member and a Belmont junior majoring in social work.

    Students were given an opportunity to participate in a survey about Belmont’s next president, and according to spokesperson April Hefner, more than 775 students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and others participated.

    Members of Be Better Belmont said they asked to take the survey but were unable to and believe there needs to be more transparency from Belmont’s administration.

    “We were and are asking for more information: who made the decision, according to what guiding priorities, and how were the survey results collected, analyzed, and applied to the presidential search portfolio,” the group responded in an email to the Lookout.

    This is not the first time LGBTQ  activists have expressed concern about Belmont’s treatment of the community. In Feb. 2020, the Belmont Vision, the student newspaper, first reported concerns about the merger between Watkins College of Art and Belmont. 

    The school, which was affiliated with the Southern Baptist from 1951-2007, made national news in 2010 when it fired its women’s soccer coach. The coach had recently come out to members of the team as a lesbian. In 2011, the school added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination statement. 

    Still, members of Be Better Belmont are hesitant to trust yet. 

    “This has been a long standing issue with Belmont and lack of transparency,” said Levine. “We don’t feel there was enough communication.”