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When it was announced that Marist would be playing Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 11, in Durham, N.C., the Marist community found themselves split over the decision.

North Carolina had passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, better known as the HB2 Law, in March 2016. The law overturned a Charlotte ordinance that had extended rights to the gay and transgender community, who previously were granted the right to use public restrooms in state buildings based on their gender identity.

According to the Charlotte Observer, the law stated that “transgender people who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender noted on their birth certificates have no legal right under state law to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify.”

The game was first brought to the attention of Deborah DiCaprio, the Vice President/Dean for Student Affairs at Marist, in July 2016. Tim Murray, the Athletic Director, told her that an opening came up in the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament, otherwise known as the Naismith Tournament. Marist was offered SUNY Albany’s spot after they were forced to withdraw due to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order.

“We talked a little about it and we felt there were two ways to go about it,” DiCaprio explained, “Our initial game was supposed to be against Rhode Island and we probably would have had a shot there. Now, we’re going to play Duke where we absolutely won’t have a shot.” Murray and DiCaprio discussed the pros and cons, and whether or not Marist would support going to North Carolina. They decided to address it to Dr. Geoff Brackett, the Executive Vice President.

When the idea of the game came up, Marist was playing several different sports in North Carolina at the time. According to Brackett, the question whether or not to end all of the sports in North Carolina. “We knew right away that it was a publicity issue,” he said. “It’s a big public game receiving lots of attention. The question that arose was whether or not it was the right thing to do.”

The most important thing to come from this, Brackett said, was to make sure that the school did not deprive any students of any opportunities. “It became clear to us that our students could have an experience that would be more powerful than a blanket boycott,” he said. “It’s more important to have student engagement directly with the issue rather than carve out a boycott that we are not legally inscribed to.”

Since President Yellen had just began at Marist, DiCaprio and Brackett realized that “throwing this all in his lap” would be a little “awkward” for him. As a result, they decided to consult with Dennis Murray, President Emeritus of Marist. “He said that as a private institution, we could do whatever we like because we are in no means attached to this law,” DiCaprio said. “Dr. Murray did emphasize, though, that it was ultimately Yellen’s decision, not mine, and we understood that.”

Once they consulted with Yellen, they realized it would be “great” to bring a number of students, both members of SGA and the LGBT community, with them to the game and turn it into a support for “those kinds of rights.”

Hannah Sayers ‘17, President of the Lesbian Gay Straight Alliance (LGSA) club at Marist, was initially taken aback by the reaction to Marist playing Duke. “I began seeing angry Facebook posts from students and alum about Marist seeming to not care about the LGBTQ community,” she said. “I thought Marist must have done something explicitly against the LGBTQ community. As I looked more into it and learned about the laws and politics surrounding the game, I knew that Marist must have had a reason to go to Duke.”

Sayers said that she was careful about saying anything on the topic before hearing both sides of the story and felt that President Yellen’s article in The Chronicle regarding the topic “made a lot of sense” as to why Marist is going to the game. “I think that it’s a very unfortunate situation, and of course the Marist administration cares about the LGBTQ community,” Sayers explained. “I personally think that the school is trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and it’s doing its best to make it a good experience for us.”

At the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester, Yellen met with Sayers and other e-board members of LGSA, along with school leaders and others involved in the game. He explained his point of view, and then opened the floor as to what can be done, both as an entire school and as a student body to “best represent” Marist and its values.

“We put forward a lot of great ideas in that meeting and since then, a few of them have become a reality for the game,” Sayers continued. “To me, it seems as though the administration has tried to be very transparent in the process, and I appreciate how much they’ve included the students and our feelings on this.”

Brackett noted that Marist is a “student focused institution” and that its mission is to “provide an educational experience and population of engaged learners.” Part of that equation, he said, was what the student leaders and LGBTQ leaders think and how they could be engaged.

“Honestly, I don’t think it affects a lot of students,” DiCaprio said. “We’re hoping that our LGSA group will see we’re doing this in support of their rights, not ignoring their rights and by bringing them down with us, we’re making a statement that we don’t like this law. Our LGBT students certainly deserve the support of our communities. It infringes on their rights, it’s a bad law and it gives us a chance to say that. If we didn’t go, nobody would be talking about it at all.”

The reason why it became an issue, DiCaprio explained, is because some alumni expressed their displeasure but it has since “died down.” Among them was former faculty member, Timmian Massie, who posted his displeasure on Facebook. He did not respond to request for comment.

Brackett described Massie as a “passionate advocate” in regards to his post. “It’s a complex issue,” he said. “People ought to have a rigorous debate and reasonable people can disagree on the approach. Our ultimate decision was based on our read on how to best engage students in the issue directly. That’s our mission.”

In a previous interview, Yellen said that he would not try to “quantify” the number of those who agree with the decision versus those who disagree. “It was a very thought out decision,” he had said. “Playing this game is a unique situation. It does not change our approach to the LGBT community.”

An excerpt from the article, stating his view:

“I just didn’t think it was appropriate for Marist as a private institution to boycott North Carolina as a state because of one law,” Yellen said. “ Aside from state colleges, not many private colleges are actually boycotting. Duke itself has made a strong stance against the law and throughout the entire process of this decision. I have been in contact with the Duke president and their athletic department. We also have room for some students on a charter flight  to travel to the game to express their support for the LGBT rights and their opposition to the law. It was certainly not the controversy I was expecting though in my first few months here.”

DiCaprio emphasized that Duke is “stuck” with the law by virtue of where they are located, upholding, “They didn’t want it, they’re against it, and we felt as a private institution we’d like to support them and make a statement about this law and other laws like it.” She reiterated that Yellen made it clear that he did not expect everyone to agree with him.

“It’s interesting because I detest HB2 and I respect those that don’t want to play,” Dr. Keith Strudler, Professor and Director of the Center for Sports Communication at Marist, said. “But there are good arguments on both sides. The decision should be made to address the intent of the law.”

The impact, Strudler noted, depends on how Marist handles it. “There’s an argument that going puts us at risk of being insensitive,” he said. “But we have an opportunity to do the right thing regardless of the decision to go or not.”

For Coach Maker and the basketball team, it’s not just about making a statement but also experiencing the opportunity to play a #1 ranked basketball team. Both Brackett and Maker knew that playing Duke would be a “tough” way to open the season, so Brackett asked Maker to “map out any concerns he might have” and see if there was a better solution.

Credit: Adriana Belmonte

Credit: Adriana Belmonte

“It was a unique set of circumstances,” Maker said. “We worked alongside [President] Yellen, DiCaprio, and Brackett and came to the conclusion that it was best for all parties.” Because Marist and Duke share “core” values, Maker said, he thinks that this will be a “great experience” for the players.

Maker described “total excitement” from the players when they found out that they would be playing Duke. “They’ve probably dreamt of playing a #1 school, especially there in North Carolina,” he said. “Those are the blue bloods.”

Senior center Kentrall Brooks agreed with Maker. “You always strive to be the best, and you want to play the best,” he commented. “Going to Cameron Indoor Stadium is an experience in itself. For many of us, it’s our first time going there.”

Maker explained that the team understands the “significance” of the game. “We’ll be representing the school with both class and excitement,” he said. “The guys are very united on that goal.”

The team previously participated in the Naismith Tournament in 2011, when they faced the University of Kentucky. This is the first time, though, that Marist will be facing Duke. “We’re playing against a Hall of Fame coach with the top-ranked program,” he said. “We have our hands full, but we hope that people see us for our efforts.”

As the game nears, Greg Cannon, Chief Public Affairs Officer at Marist, understands that Marist has to be prepared for “any” possibilities.

“After the decision was announced, there was some backlash but it’s always hard to quantify it,” Cannon said. “We tend to hear most from people who are disappointed with the decision. As we get closer to the date, it may flare up again in terms of people’s feelings around the decision.”

One of the main things that was expressed to Cannon was that if Marist was going to play in this game, it should not be treated like any other basketball game. “Yellen made it clear that wasn’t going to be the case, that it was a different circumstance, and that a law exists in North Carolina that people disagree with,” Cannon said. “We want to allow any member of the Marist community, including the basketball team, to be able to state their position, whether it be opposition to the law or solidarity with LGBT in North Carolina.”

Cannon and other members of the administration inquired within the NCAA over what is allowed for sports teams to do in terms of making statement. It was communicated to the basketball team that if they had an opportunity but were not obligated to in any way. “We are all about supporting and facilitating the expression of the individual,” Cannon reiterated. “But we certainly don’t want anyone to feel that they have to say or do something they’re not comfortable with or doesn’t align with their position.”

Sayers, along with most of the LGSA e-board and several club members, will be traveling with Marist to North Carolina for the game. They will be wearing T-shirts to show support for Marist and the LGBTQ community. She also noted that the game will be streamed at the McCann Center for people on the Marist campus to watch the game.

DiCaprio does not anticipate any more backlash, as those who are concerned have already expressed their opinions. “We have opportunities to pull people out of office who make laws an rules like this,” she said. “We need to pay attention to things and encourage people to get more involved in issues like this so they can express themselves and we can talk about it and have a discussion.”

Dr. Patricia Ferrer, Chair of the LGBTQ Sub-Committee of Diversity Committee at Marist, stated that the committee did not take an official position on the decision. However, “we worked to support and maintain an open dialogue with our LGBT alumni, current students, Student Affairs, and the President’s office concerning the decision,” she remarked. “In this way, we have played the role of facilitator in the discussion of this important issue.”

While the committee was not consulted on the decision, key members, including Brother Michael Flanigan, were brought into conversations with the administration after the decision “in order to brainstorm strategies to express support for the campus LGBTQ,” Ferrer added.

Flanigan, head of the Men’s Spirit Group for gay men on campus, “sees no reason” why Marist should a boycott. “It was not universally accepted, but it was understood,” Flanigan said. “You have two colleges, private institutions, against the law. It’s a stupid law. I don’t agree with it and the fact that people spend time and money on making the law…I don’t get the whole anti-gay thing in 2016.” Because of the fact that the law is simply for state buildings, “the joke is on the state” that they spent the “time, energy, and money” passing the law.

For Nicholas Wurtz ‘17, a member of the Men’s Spirit Group, he saw it as an opportunity to “to play with a team in a better league” than Marist, and was invited to travel to North Carolina to attend the game. “I hope to learn more about what it’s like for someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ and also lives or studies in North Carolina,” he said, “and how someone can help raise awareness that this law is not protecting anyone but rather attacking the Trans community.” He values how Marist is letting him contribute to this event.

“I definitely feel that my voice has been heard,” Sayers maintained. “We as students have had multiple meetings with the administration, and they seem to have been very receptive to our suggestions and apprehensions about the game.”

As president of LGSA, Sayers describes it as “quite a job” to convey this to members who are still unhappy with the decision. She and the e-board have tried to create “an open dialogue” with the members to provide a place where they can express their concerns. “I’ve tried to act as a representative for our members and other members of the LGBTQ community,” she said, “and I think that all of the people going to the Duke game will do a fantastic job of representing our core values and ideas regarding this issue.”

Brackett emphasized that his personal view of HB2 aligns with Yellen’s, in that neither of them support the law but still feel that they’ve made the right choice. “This is a tough topic but we’re confident in our actions,” he stated. “We hope it’s a powerful response.”

“I think the key thing is showing people that we are providing an opportunity for students and student-athletes to make whatever statement they may feel appropriate,” Cannon said. “Once the game is played, hopefully people will see that what we’re doing is the reasonable and responsible way to give people the opportunity to make a statement.”

More information about the HB2 law can be found here: http://www.ncleg.net/sessions/2015e2/bills/house/pdf/h2v4.pdf

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