Shippensburg University has created several initiates from administrative efforts to student groups that seek to support the diverse body of students and faculty in the SU community. The annual Diversity Week and the recent implementation of the Hate Has No Home Here campaign are only a few of the ways that SU has shown its support.
However, only 13 miles away, Chambersburg politicians have decided to revoke certain protections of the LGBTQ community, racial and ethnic minorities and United States veterans.
On Jan. 24, the Chambersburg Town Council held its first meeting of the year. The meeting was also live streamed by the Franklin County Coalition for Progress (FCCP), a non-profit social justice group. The council’s first action was to remove Chambersburg’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance (NDO), which was put into place just last fall. The council’s 7–3 vote removed the ordinance that protects citizens from discrimination in terms of housing, employment, public accommodation, etc. This was the council’s first action since the election of five out of 10 council members in Nov. 2021.
“It says a lot about what their priorities are and sends a message about what type of community they want to have and live in.” Arielle Catron, the director of the Pride and Gender Equity Center (PAGE Center), said. “I think that may send an unfriendly message to LGBTQ+ students who are looking at this area. As a university, we are just going to do everything we can to promote inclusion and equity.”
Chambersburg was the latest, in fall 2021, of approximately 70 Pennsylvania municipalities to implement an NDO on the local level, according to the FCCP website. The ordinance made sure that every citizen and those passing through the town of Chambersburg would be assured fair treatment in all public spaces. The NDO protected a myriad of citizens from different backgrounds in terms of employment, housing and other public accommodations. In the Chambersburg NDO, there was a section to allow a religious exemption for groups and organizations regarding terms of discrimination under employment. Still, the ordinance prohibited forms of unfair treatment.
On Jan. 24, over a hundred citizens and concerned parties attended the meeting in person and via zoom to express their concerns, and some for their support, to rescind the NDO.
Jayleen Galarza, co-chair of the PAGE Center Advisory Council and SU social work professor, explained that non-discrimination ordinances in and of themselves are only an illusion of safety.
“I’m not discounting the value [of NDOs] at all, I am working on the one in Shippensburg,” they said. “To at least have something that exists makes people feel that sense of safety whether it’s real or not because we know policies take time — to really translate into action, that might take a while. But to lose this illusion — this perception of safety — that’s really big.”
On Jan. 25, one day after the NDO repeal, three representatives of the Pennsylvania General Assembly proposed statewide non-discrimination protections. Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state to not have an implemented statewide NDO, according to the Human Rights Campaign website.
Allen Coffman, a Republican council member and the Chambersburg Town Council’s president, explained in the meeting that he believes that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. Coffman noted the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission deals with complaints of discrimination. While the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission deems it unlawful to discriminate against one in terms of race, ethnicity, sex and disabilities, the NDO at the local level in Chambersburg covered sexual orientation and gender identities as well.
The Chambersburg Town Council began its meeting “the way we usually do” with a prayer followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
“It begins with a very Christian prayer, not everyone in that room is believing in the same god, but the people in charge are asking for guidance from a very specific version of who they believe as god,” Nicole Santalucia, a co-chair of the PAGE Center Advisory Council and SU English professor, said. “That immediately leaves a lot of people out. We constantly have to ‘imagine myself fitting into this group of people that is sending me the message that I don’t belong here.’ I think that is very revealing to what the majority belief system of the people in charge is. What the majority is made up of and who it is made up of, it comes down to we need to vote.”
Santalucia explained that the percentage of participating voters in the local 2021 election was significantly low. According to the Franklin County Coalition website, only 18% of voters in Chambersburg borough voted in the Nov. 2021 election.
“People have a lot to say, but then they don’t use their voice,” Santalucia said. “We are outnumbered as it is, given the history and roots of the area. There is a lot of struggle to be accepted to the local community on many levels. We need to teach people how to use their voices through their votes.”
“We can’t rely on saying things have been solved at any level because they really haven’t,” Galarza urged. The co-chairs both explained the importance of voting. People cannot give up just because this ordinance in Chambersburg has been repealed, according to Galarza.
“We do have power,” Galarza said. “If you don’t show up [to vote] and use that power, then it goes to those folks who do show up and make these decisions. Show up, get involved. There are ways to get involved even now in Shippensburg township. We have to keep fighting.”
The Chambersburg Town Council’s decision has an impact on the morale of students, faculty and staff in Shippensburg University. Many professors, including Galarza and Santalucia, have kept students informed on the event. Santalucia has talked about it in all of her classes, regardless of the relevance to the course, she said. “It is relevant to being here and being a part of this community,” she said.
“You don’t have to be a direct member of that community [Chambersburg], of this community [SU] to be affected,” Galarza said. “It is one thing to not even have a Non-Discrimination Ordinance enacted, it is a whole other to have one enacted and then have it appealed. That speaks volumes in regard to what that says to people. Not only ‘you don’t matter,’ but ‘you are not deserving of this thing.’ That is big — that impacts everybody.”
Santalucia noted, “As much as it’s sending negative messaging, our campus is a little bubble of safety despite what goes on beyond its borders.”
Catron, Galarza and Santalucia encourage Shippensburg University students to reach out to many resources on campus if they are impacted by this decision. As the co-chairs of the PAGE Center Advisory Council, both Galarza and Santalucia are individual resources that students can get in contact with.
“If any students are affected by this, they are welcome to seek out the PAGE Center services,” Catron added. “We have support groups, we have confidential counseling, we have a community they can come to use the space. We are here to listen if they have any concerns.”
As the LGBTQ+ Caucus continues to work for statewide protections, both Galarza and Santalucia encourage LGBTQ+ students and faculty at SU to continue to use their voices in voting.
“I’m a poet, it’s all about learning how to use your voice for change, for reflection on what’s going on in the world, for challenging boundaries,” Santalucia said. “The single most poetic way to use your voice without any words is to cast your votes.”
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