Current and former Anderson University students gathered Sunday morning to show support for a professor who says she lost her job last week because of her sexual orientation.
About 20 people stood outside the university's metal archway on Boulevard in Anderson holding signs and waving flags in support of the LGBTQ+ community and former theater professor Miranda Barnett.
In a video posted Wednesday on Instagram, Barnett said her contract as a part-time professor at Anderson University had not been renewed for the fall semester because she is queer.
A spokesperson for Anderson University would not discuss Barnett's employment with the university. The spokesperson said employment matters are private and adjunct faculty contracts are provided on a semester-to-semester basis.
But the spokesperson also sent a written statement to the Independent Mail that reads, in part, "Anderson University is a private Christian university which upholds the South Carolina Baptist traditional view of sexuality and marriage as set forth in Scripture."
Anderson University protest seeks transparency and LGBTQ+ resources
By Thursday morning, within a day of Barnett's video on social media, Anderson University student Cary Doyle was organizing his first protest.
The theater alumni group is tight-knit, he said, and support for Barnett was already pouring in when he created a Facebook event, Anderson University LGBTQ+ Rights Protest.
Protesters planned to stay at the campus for eight hours, waving at drivers who had to slow down at a major crosswalk.
Some on Sunday morning were driving slower than necessary to read protesters' signs and occasionally honk their horns.
Barnett, a Greenville native, won Anderson University's 2019-20 award for "Excellence in Teaching" for part-time faculty. Nominations were submitted from students and faculty, and the recipient was chosen by a student and faculty committee, according to the university's website.
In addition to her help with academics, Barnett provided a safe space on campus for all students, Doyle said, and they want to know why her contract wasn't renewed.
In a letter to university officials, protest organizers requested transparency on Barnett’s termination, "cultural competency" for department heads, an LGBTQ+ employee resource group and the formation of a LGBTQ+ Anderson Alumni Council.
They also demanded that the university "commit to not firing or disciplining faculty, staff or students on the basis of sexuality and gender identity."
Miranda Barnett says Anderson University students 'deserve better'
Barnett, who started teaching at AU in the fall of 2018, said she was overwhelmed by the attendance of friends, former students and strangers who came out to support her Sunday.
Whether or not the protest changes her employment status with Anderson University wasn't her main concern, she said.
"The students of Anderson University deserve better," Barnett said. "There are a lot of queer students on this campus, and many of them don't have a choice about being here. At a minimum, they should feel safe. But, on a Christian campus, they should feel loved. And many of them right now are feeling betrayed and hurt and scared. And that has to change."
University officials brought snacks and bottled water to protesters and had a constant stream of campus safety officers patrolling the area.
As a private institution, Anderson University is exempt from Title IX protections for discrimination based on sex.
"The theater department specifically has been built up off of the backs of the LGBTQ+ students for years now, and to terminate a professor for their queerness is a slap in the face to all queer students and alumni," said 2020 acting graduate Savvy Thompson. "These students deserve to have safe spaces where members of their community aren't actively being oppressed."
Private Christian university upholds SC Baptist traditional view of sexuality
Andrew Beckner, spokesperson for Anderson University, would not specifically address Barnett's employment but sent the following statement to the Independent Mail:
"Anderson University is a private Christian university which upholds the South Carolina Baptist traditional view of sexuality and marriage as set forth in Scripture. As a condition of employment, and as outlined in our employee handbook, “employees are to be actively mindful and respectful of its denominational relationship and the ways in which their behavior may impact this relationship. In doing so, faculty members shall be respectful of and not undermine the University’s Statement of Faith.
"Therefore, faculty members unable or unwilling to adhere to this policy and our Statement of Faith are not scheduled to teach. Anderson University's ability to be a distinctive, faith-based institution is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. If Christian universities were not allowed to uphold deeply held religious beliefs in setting expectations about conduct, private, faith-based universities would be indistinguishable from public universities. We exist to give faculty, staff and students a choice."
Sarah Sheridan contributed to this story.
Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She'd appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @saralinasher.
This article originally appeared on Anderson Independent Mail: Queer professor 'fired'; Anderson University defends traditional view