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Social activist discusses RFRA of Indiana; students

April 1, 2015
KOKOMO, Ind. – Rebecca McVay didn’t know much about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of Indiana, but wants to be better informed.

“I am a religious person, but I don’t ever want someone to be uncomfortable around me because of what I believe,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I am going to change my core beliefs.”

McVay, a junior majoring in communication arts at Indiana University Kokomo, joined her peers and others for a conversation about the RFRA and its implications, which Gov. Mike Pence signed into law on March 26.

The discussion was led by diversity educator and social justice activist Jessica Pettitt, who advocates for many populations including women and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. During her presentation, she focused on important concepts, asked challenging questions, and encouraged the audience to move forward in a positive step.

“The important thing to remember in moving forward is having these conversations and encouraging dialogue, especially when you see people negatively affected or impacted by this bill,” Pettitt said.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie released a statement regarding the university’s stance on RFRA. The full message is available at this link http://go.iu.edu/tvi.

There are other states with this law, and Pettitt pointed out that a large majority of these conversations are being centered around Christians verses the LGBT community. However, Pettitt reminded us that a person can identify as a Christian and LGBT or as a Christian and ally to the LGBT community.

“People can check more than one box, and that can be extremely uncomfortable. We don’t talk about how diverse we are when it comes to this,” she said.

Maria Ahmad, coordinator for student life and campus diversity, agreed that these events and conversations are important to have, especially for institutions of higher education.

“Students should be thinking critically about the world they live in and how bills like this may not affect them directly but someone they know or care about. Our graduates should be civically engaged citizens.”

Audience members and Pettitt discussed the examples of a baker choosing not to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding or a pastor choosing to not officiate a gay couple’s wedding because it burdens their religious beliefs. Pettitt challenged this thought process by asking, “What about that same baker who makes a cake for a woman’s divorce party? Or that same pastor who officiates someone’s third wedding?”

McVay added that these are difficult conversations to have.

“It is important to engage in this information and make us think from all sides. I really liked what Jessica said about how it doesn’t matter how young we are, we are students and these conversations enrich our lives and get us thinking.”

Pettitt concluded her presentation by stating that thoughts and beliefs are not 100 percent consistent and “right” and reminded us it is not easy to always be objective.

“The first thing someone should do when controversial issues come into light is take the time to sit, think, and reflect on yourself and how you feel about the issue instead of jumping on a bandwagon,” she said.

McVay was thankful to have this conversation at IU Kokomo.

“Freedom exists here at IUK and there was no risk of loss for me to engage in this discussion. Knowing the people who attended were so diverse reminds me to see everyone as dimensional rather than flat, poster stereotypes,” she said.

Ahmad said these events are crucial for our campus and community.

“IUK serves as a safe space for all on the spectrum to come and learn through open dialogue and discussion, even if that leads to agreeing or disagreeing.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 04/01/2015