The LGBTQ+ Community Responds to Scholar-In-Residence

Sophia Nelson’s tweet against bisexual comic book characters sparks backlash

~Evelyn Davidson, News Editor~

Sophia Nelson, a Christopher Newport University scholar-in-residence, received backlash from the CNU community for a tweet that many considered hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community. 

Nelson responded to a  tweet from Variety about Superman’s son, Jonathan Kent, coming out as bisexual in the DC Comics. On Oct. 11, she tweeted, “Smdh. I just don’t get why this is necessary. I don’t! What if Christian parents of children reading comic books don’t want their kids exposed to bi-sexual characters? This is being pushed on kids. Then parents have to explain it. And most cannot!” 

Many people believe that as someone working so closely with students, Nelson should not have made such a public comment invalidating the feelings of LGBTQ+ students. 

Jess Alexander, a junior at CNU and the vice president of Spectrum, a CNU organization for the LGBTQ+ community, talked about how Nelson’s tweets were offensive and hurtful, “Now luckily I’m at the point in my life where I know it’s okay for me to have the sexuality that I do, for me to have the gender identity that I do, but not everybody here on campus does and it’s very hurtful for that because it takes a dig at who you are, it takes a little chunk of your emotional stability, it takes a little bit of a chunk of your own confidence with it. It shouldn’t have to be that way if it’s just who we are.”

CNU communications professor and Spectrum faculty advisor, Dr. Danielle Stern, responded to Nelson on twitter saying, “As a bisexual faculty colleague of yours at @CNUcaptains, I am saddened by this sentiment. We have served on DEI panels together. I implore you to think about how bisexual young people, including our students, may feel shamed and othered by this perspective.”

In addition, Stern penned a letter to the administration that amassed 170 faculty and staff signatures. Stern shared the letter and signature list with all CNU faculty and staff, including President Trible, on Oct. 15. The letter urged the administration to denounce Nelson’s statements and defend CNU’s LGBTQ+ students, “While we ought to be well past the need to have dozens of signatures on a faculty letter for administration to speak up on behalf of our underrepresented communities, I and many on our CNU faculty feel we must speak up against this patent discrimination and in support of our students and our CNU commitment to diversity and inclusion. This letter serves as a call to the upper administration to make a public statement that condemns Prof. Nelson’s homophobic statements and affirms the safety and mental well-being of our students, particularly those in the LGBTQIA+ community.” The letter was officially sent out soon after Trible released his Oct. 18 email addressing the situation.

In response to all the backlash, on Oct. 14th, Nelson apologized in a now deleted tweet, “I am a university professor-scholar now. I am mindful of the diversity of the student body & the importance of #LGBTQ equality. I apologize sincerely if my #Superman’s son coming out as “bi” @DCComics tweet hurt anyone. It wasn’t my intent. I wanted to acknowledge that publicly.” 

Nelson’s apology was not well received and many felt that it lacked sincerity.

One CNU alumnus, Jonelle Brown, responded to Nelson stating, “I know that the difference in semantics is not lost on a scholar/author… apologizing ‘if’ negates the fact that actual harm was done. Nor is the term “bi” suggestive/potentially invalid — why is it in quotes? Anyway…apologies mean nothing without change. We hope to see it!”

In reaction to Nelson’s divisive tweets, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted an open forum on Oct. 15 where students could have a platform to speak freely about the situation. Nearly 100 students attended the event, and the forum, held exclusively for CNU students, provided a safe space for them to share their thoughts on the subject. The SGA intends to host another open forum on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 5:30 in Gaines Theater. This forum will be open to students as well as faculty and staff.

In another show of support, the Department of Communication released a statement backing the LGBTQ+ community, “Let us say unequivocally that as a department we stand in support of Inclusive Excellence and support all members of the CNU community, including our fellow Captains who identify as LGBTQIA+ and their friends and families. While we stand steadfastly in support of the principles of free speech, we recognize that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences of that speech. This means that we fully support peoples’ ability to exercise their first amendment rights, but also reserve the right to categorically denounce speech that is objectively harmful to members of our community ”

The Student Diversity and Equality Council (SDEC) stated on their Instagram that they were “disheartened and disappointed by the recent public comments on social media… SDEC will always support and be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Trible released an email on Oct. 18 entitled, “Message to the Campus Community.” In his email, he assured the CNU community that the university would work towards healing and growth.

He also stated that, “Dean Underwood is working with Ms. Nelson to bring her to campus for an open dialogue.  She is eager to engage in this give and take, and offered it before we asked.  We will schedule opportunities for her to have discussions with students, faculty and staff.  She welcomes the conversation.  She will have an opportunity to share who she is, her views and opinions, and her heart.  She will talk about why she tweeted what she did.  We will listen.  And we will share our views, opinions and hearts – the pain, the anger, and the questions.  She will listen.  She will learn what it means to be a part of this community.  Everyone may never agree, but we will support our LGBTQ+ students and colleagues, listen, and talk, and learn how to be different, together.”

Last updated: Oct. 19

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