FLORENCE, Ala. — Some students at the University of North Alabama are calling for a student leader to resign following a controversial social media post. While the post was within his First Amendment rights, many feel the post is not representative of the entire student body.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 800 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for UNA Student Government Association President Jake Statom to resign from his position.
The petition explained that Statom shared a post on his Instagram story that was not representative of the entire student body. In the post is a T-shirt with a rainbow and a message that reads, “Born this way? You must be born again.”
The petition adds that while Statom is entitled to his personal beliefs, as SGA president, he should lead in a capacity that protects the interests of all students.
Students and members of the LGBTQIA+ community said they feel Statom acted irresponsibly.
“I just remember some friends of mine who are in SGA that he signed an oath saying that he would represent the whole campus and all the students involved in this campus so I feel like as a president, he was kind of letting us down when he posted that,” UNA senior Matt Anderson said.
On Tuesday, Statom posted a video to his Instagram story apologizing for sharing the post, adding that he will commit to educating himself on social inclusion using campus resources. The video was accompanied with the following statement:
“I am deeply sorry that my Instagram story offended members of our community. I now see the story from a different perspective and apologize. My role as SGA President is to honorably represent all UNA students, and I fell short of this ideal. I thank all of the students who have reached out to provide me feedback. You have shown me I have much work to do, and I ask for your forgiveness and grace as I strive to be a better leader and servant to students. I commit to educating myself using campus resources, including the Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion. I will actively create intentional opportunities to get feedback from other students and continue to seek training for myself. Again, I am sorry and look forward to working with all of our UNA students.”
On Wednesday, SGA members sent the following statement to UNA students:
“As Senators and Executive Members of the Student Government Association, we condemn the homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment expressed by our 2021-2022 SGA President, Jake Statom. In an effort to promote a welcoming, inclusive and politically active campus environment, we publicly request President Statom’s resignation by 5pm on June 30th. If President Statom refuses to resign by this date, the formal impeachment process will begin at our first meeting of the fall semester. The meeting will be on Thursday, August 26 at 3:30pm in the SGA Chambers and will be open for public attendance, COVID-19 protocols permitting.”
News 19 reached out to the university regarding the incident and it released the following statement:
“A photo critical of the LGBTQ+ community recently posted to Instagram by SGA President Jake Statom is not representative of the University of North Alabama’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the UNA campus. While we know how upsetting this social media post is to our LGBTQ+ community and others on the UNA campus, we also need to recognize that Mr. Statom and others have a right to freedom of speech, even when it is offensive to others. A recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion on First Amendment rights observed that public schools have “an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off-campus, because America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy.” We encourage students and other members of our campus community to continue to find ways to educate one another on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues; however, the University is not the appropriate venue or authority to resolve differences of religious or political opinion among private individuals. Ultimately, we only have control over our own reactions, thoughts, feelings, and responses. You, as an individual, have the right to respond or ignore opposing views, including those presented on social media by a student.”