By Megan Lupo and Stephen Neukam
In the aftermath of concerns raised by students following the statements made by current dean of Rider’s College of Business Administration (CBA) Cynthia Newman about her religious reasoning to resign and the subsequent national media coverage, the Student Government Association (SGA) presented Newman with a platform to address and clarify her viewpoints during their senate meeting on March 26.
Introducing Newman as generating “a positive learning experience for her, her students and the CBA” and asking the administration and students present to “please remain respectful,” SGA’s Executive Vice President and junior political science major Allison Anderson administered seven questions, on behalf of SGA.
According to SGA’s Vice President for University Affairs and sophomore musical theater major Dylan Erdelyi, the intention for the open forum was to have a “productive conversation” on her beliefs and how it’s going to affect students and carry on to her professional climate.
“From one side of the table, there were potential threats brought up on some of our Christian identifying students, and whether not now they feel comfortable with Rider’s administration, following this possible controversy,” Erdelyi said, who reached out to Newman after reading an article from the national conservative website Campus Reform. “And on the other side of the table, there’s the LGBTQ students who may not feel comfortable in Dr. Newman’s classroom now that she’s staying on as a faculty member, following her very public comments.”
Although the forum was for Newman to address the student body, the event was never publicized to the campus community. Erdelyi said this decision was made to give her a safe environment to express her opinion.
“If she feels that she is under attack from the start, there’s not really any point inviting her in the first place,” Erdelyi said. “I think that’s why we didn’t necessarily blast it out to the community because we didn’t want it to turn into something that we didn’t intend it to be.”
Armed with a notepad, Newman was given more than a week to prepare her answers and the floor was not open to additional questions from the audience.
The Rider News submitted a question, asking “In response to a question about donating money to groups with anti-gay agendas, the president of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy said, ‘Chick-fil-A is very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit,’ maintaining that they operate based upon the biblical values in the sense of a traditional marriage, being only between a man and a woman.
“In an article published by the Rider News, you said, ‘…I have no problem with the University leadership deciding not to bring Chick-fil-A to campus in deference to the LGBTQ community. I do have a problem with University leadership passing judgement on Chick-fil-A’s values which are reflective with the values of the Christian … faith.’ How do you rectify the incongruity between your statement and his, offering your support of Rider’s LGBTQ community, while also aligning with Chick-fil-A’s stated values that inform their decision to donate millions to anti-LGBTQ organizations?”
Newman responded,“People in organizations can have similar stated values but chose to live them out very differently. I chose to live out my Christian values in a manner that puts the emphasis on not judging other people and I’m showing others respect simply on the fact that they’re human, and we should have human decency and respect toward one another on that factor.”
Commenting on the question with a parable about Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy and Campus Pride founder Shane Windmeyer’s unlikely friendship and mutual respect despite differing stances, Newman said that, “Based on [Shane’s] conversations with Dan Cathy, where Chick-fil-A changed their donation patterns. They no longer gave to organizations that were considered to be anti-LGBTQ and hate organizations.”
According to a MSN article, Chick-fil-A donated $1.8 million to anti-LGBTQ groups, including “the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which requires its employees to sign a policy that bars them from ‘homosexual acts,’” “the Salvation Army, which has a record of opposing LGBTQ causes” and “the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Georgia home for troubled youth that has blamed ‘sexual, physical, and mental abuse of children’ for creating an ‘explosion of homosexuality.”
As the questions progressed, Newman expressed frustration with the press coverage surrounding her decision.
“The media has their own biases. They have their own agendas. There was actually very little coverage of what I actually said or why I did what I did,” said Newman. Any headline that said, ‘Dean resigns because Chick-fil-A isn’t on campus’ was wrong.
“I did resign because following the statement that said they weren’t going to bring Chick-fil-A to campus given widely perceived anti-LGBTQ stance of the company, the administration then went a step further in that letter. They said that the values of Chick-fil-A have not sufficiently progressed to align with the values of Rider. As a non-sectarian institution, we shouldn’t be judging or evaluating the values of any organization or any individual on our campus, and that is why I resigned,” she said.
Newman felt there had been a significant amount of “negative” media coverage. However, Newman supplied exclusive copies of her resignation letter and talking points for the administration to the national conservative website Campus Reform to run in a March 4 article.
Newman said that her agreeance to stay as faculty was so that she can ensure the Rider’s community standards are being implemented and thought that “more progress can be made to make our campus welcoming to all students.”
“I agree with Rider’s stated values, community values. I would very much like to see them followed and instituted and lived out more and more every day,” Newman said. “That is in fact why I decided to stay at Rider so I can be a part of seeing that happen and encouraging that to happen.”
After Anderson thanked Newman for “answering all our questions very thoroughly,” Newman made a swift exit.
Once she left, Anderson asked the audience for their reactions.
Stating how Newman’s “answers [were] the bare minimum of what we could have discussed,” sophomore graphic design major Giavanna Troilo didn’t understand Newman’s reasoning of relating Rider’s statement to Christian beliefs.
“I think the biggest clarification that I need is why Rider’s statement on Chick-fil-A’s values was so closely associated with Christian values? Because the statement said nothing about Christianity or any of their values based on Christianity,” Troilo said. “They just talked about their values in general, which would reflect where their money has gone in the past.”
Echoing Troilo’s sentiment of the lack of detail in the questions, junior political science major Charles Palmer said he hoped for a more interactive conversation, comparing his experience to when Gourmet Dining spoke at senate previously.
“Last week when Gourmet came, we gave Gourmet the questions, and they were also very supportive of answering other questions that the audience have,” Palmer said. “It’s okay to ask those hard questions.”
Although Erdelyi said that he admired that Newman answered every question she was given, he found some of her responses were more satisfactory than others.
“I don’t subscribe to the belief she is not responsible for the potential fallout or the response to the media coverage. I believe that in choosing to release her statements, she took a step that can be perceived in many different ways by the greater campus community,” Erdelyi said. “Though she’s not responsible for potential sensationalizing of her statements or being taken out of context or anything. She is responsible for the student’s reactions to the things that she said.”
Reflecting on the event, Erdelyi said that by giving Newman a place to voice her opinion, he is supporting SGA’s mission.
“We usually try to stay impartial and hear views of all students and we know that we have students of different perspectives across this whole campus,” Erdelyi said. “We don’t want to err on the side of any on perspective, but we want to make sure all of those perspectives are heard. I think that’s what we got from this the most.”