Students Protest Trustees Council Diversity

Last Friday the UVM Board of Trustees Council on Diversity had a meeting in a small conference room in Waterman. Packed in amid the council members and presenters were approximately a dozen students protesting.

The students made their message clear, holding large posters proclaiming slogans such as “The Red Cross Doesn’t Stand on Our Common Ground”. The motivation behind the protest was anger over the allegedly discriminatory policies of the American Red Cross concerning the ability of homosexual, sexually active men, to donate blood.

The Red Cross’ policy, as it stands, asserts that you are ineligible to donate if you “are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977.”

Students at the protest claim this is pertinent to the UVM community as the Red Cross holds many blood drives on campus and their policy violates the University’s anti-discrimination or “Common Ground” charter. Two UVM students have already filed formal affirmative action complaints against the Red Cross.

UVM’s Common Ground charter states “As a just community, we unite against all forms of injustice, including, but not limited to, racism. We reject bigotry, oppression, degradation and harassment, and we challenge injustice toward any member of our community.” This statement, the students protesting at the Board of Trustees meeting, is obviously not being upheld.

The American Red Cross claims on their website that the reason behind this policy is a ban on blood from this group issued by the Federal Drug Administration. The FDA, in turn, claims the reasoning for this ban is that men who have had sexual relations with other men are at the highest risk to contract and carry the HIV virus.

On the Red Cross’ website, Dr. Jay Epstein, director of the FDA’s Office of Blood Research and Review had this to say; “The safety of the blood supply – and the patients we ultimately serve – must be our number one priority. This is a public health issue. Not a social policy issue.”

In a letter to the Board of Trustees Commission on Diversity, Evan Litwin, a UVM alumni of the class of 2005, wrote “the Red Cross plays a shadowy, active role in suppressing the rights of gay men to donate blood and in maintaining the bigoted and ignorant notion that gays are inherent carriers of the HIV virus.”

Andy Black, a first year student here at UVM had this to say about the ultimate goal of Fridays protest; “We don’t want to get rid of the Red Cross entirely, we need to confront them and say we aren’t ok with this policy and they need to confront the FDA and let them know that a regulation of that type is discriminatory.”

The silent protest was well received by the Board of Trustees Committee on Diversity, Kathryn Friedman, Executive Director of Diversity and Equality here at UVM said, “the students were very courageous to come here and let their view be known to the Board of Trustees.”