s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Student asked to remove her cross may leave SSU


The Sonoma State student who was asked by a supervisor to remove her cross to avoid offending non-Christians says she's not sure she will ever return to the school, but she said the university seems to be taking the matter seriously.

"The university is doing everything right and if I do decide to attend somewhere else, it would not be for lack of effort on the university's part," Audrey Jarvis said Monday after she and her attorney, Hiram Sasser, met with university officials.

University spokeswoman Susan Kashack said she hoped Jarvis returns to school in the fall, but in the wake of the incident, the student says she is considering her options for her junior year.

"I have some things to figure out; I'm taking a little time for myself," she said. "I am not really sure where my future will take me, but hopefully within the next few weeks, I will be able to make some decisions and we'll take it from there."

Jarvis, 19, an event planner for the student government, known as Associated Students, was working at a student orientation event last month when a supervisor approached her to ask her to remove or hide a large cross necklace, saying it might be offensive or off-putting to students looking to attend the school or join the organization.

Jarvis, upset by the request, left the orientation early. After talking with lawyers from the Texas-based Liberty Institute, she filed a complaint with the university. The story hit Fox News late last month and was picked up by news organizations as far away as the U.K.

President Ruben Armi?na and others at the university quickly apologized for the incident, saying it was a misguided but well-intentioned mistake by the supervisor.

Neither Jarvis nor the university have named the person responsible for asking her to remove the cross. Jarvis said she didn't want to "drag anyone's name through the mud" and the university has said it is a "personnel matter," which they treat as confidential.

Associated Students Executive Director Erik Dickson was out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment.

Monday's meeting, which was closed to the press, was intended for the university to pass on its apology directly to Jarvis and to explain how the matter will be handled administratively.

Jarvis had asked for a "religious accommodation," essentially a religiously based exception to any policy the university might have about wearing jewelry or other clothing. But since the university does not have any such policy, spokeswoman Kashack said, there is nothing from which to exempt her.

"There is nothing on this campus that anyone could wear or say that would be not OK," she said.

Instead, the university will treat the matter as a case of religious discrimination under Title IX, the portion of federal education law that bans such discrimination. The university's Title IX coordinator, Joyce Suzuki, said she hoped to conclude her report quickly, particularly given that the supervisor in question has admitted his mistake.

"I doubt if this one will take long," she said Monday before meeting with Jarvis and Sasser.

What is less clear is what might happen to the supervisor, since he is employed not by the university but by Associated Students, a related but separate organization. Suzuki said she will refer her final report to Associated Students leaders and leave it to them to decide on any disciplinary action.

Sasser appeared wholly satisfied with the university's plans after the meeting.

"I think it's going to lead to a relatively easy resolution .<TH>.<TH>. you have to give Joyce credit," he said. "She's obviously taking it very seriously and she wants to do a thorough job and make sure that this kind of stuff doesn't happen again."

Jarvis has not asked for compensation for the incident and said that filing the complaint was "just making sure that any student, whether they be of Christian faith like myself or have an affiliation with anything, has the right to express themselves and not be ashamed of who they are and what is most important to them."

Jarvis, a devout Christian, said she has never experienced any direct pressure to hide her faith, but she did say there have been a handful of minor incidents at SSU that have caused her discomfort in her two years at the school.

"Some course work I have kind of been asked to participate in or lectures I have heard have not shed a very kind light on Christianity at times, so there have been a few lectures where I have left," she said, declining to be more specific. "But I think that is going to be the case in any university, any public university that you attend."

The San Diego native said she was attracted to the school by its promise of diversity and tolerance in its promotional literature.

This appears to be the first major incident at the school related to religion. Kashack said she has been at the school for three decades and cannot recall a previous complaint.

The school has, however, experienced a number of race-based incidents, including one earlier this year where someone scrawled a slur on a flier on an event held by the Black Scholars United club, and one in 2008 where vandals wrote slurs and white power slogans on campaign posters for candidates running for student government positions.

Suzuki said the university aggressively investigates and punishes cases of discrimination of all kinds, though confidentiality rules prevent the administration from releasing the results in most incidents.

Jarvis said being questioned about her religion so bluntly seemed out of character with the university's usual atmosphere.

"I was really caught off guard because that's not something I've known Sonoma State to be about," she said. "Usually it's a very inclusive campus."

One element of the story that is not entirely clear is how the Liberty Institute, often described as a conservative Christian advocacy and legal defense organization, and Fox News became involved. Sasser said he heard about it indirectly and contacted the Jarvis family to offer his help. Fox News contacted the law firm before it even put out a press release on the matter.

Jarvis said it appears that friends of the family heard about the incident, possibly through her mother's Facebook posts, and contacted the lawyers and news organizations independently.

Her mother, Debra Jarvis, couldn't be reached for comment on Monday.

Audrey Jarvis, a liberal studies major who hopes to become an event planner for non-profits and charities, said she was surprised by the amount of attention the incident provoked. She said she never planned to attract the media spotlight but wanted only to make sure students of all faiths can practice their beliefs in public without fear.

"Through this whole thing I have never wanted money or anything like that," she said. "I just want to be able to express my sincere faith and maybe even by living as an example, help others come to know the God I love so much a little bit deeper."