Eau Queer Film Festival controversy leads to administrative response

Story by Breann Schossow

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich said UW-Eau Claire will address the issue of a department chair’s comments on the Eau Queer Film Festival, according to a statement to University Senate on Tuesday.

The incident stemmed fromĀ e-mails exchanged between Information Systems Department Chair Tom Hilton and senior Crystal Kazik beginning on Sept. 23. Kazik initially sent an e-mail to the Women’s Studies mailing list, asking for promotion and support from the recipients said Theresa Kemp, program coordinator of the English Department and interim chair of the Women’s Studies Department.

Hilton responded to the student’s e-mail on Sept. 24, asking that she reconsider her plan to advertise last summer’s San Francisco gay pride event and the Eau Queer Film Festival.

“I applaud reminders that people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian are people, fellow humans who deserve affection and respect. However, I decry attempts to legitimize their addictions and compulsions,” Hilton said, according to a Sept. 24 e-mail.

In an interview with The Spectator, Hilton said he chose to respond to Kazik’s message out of respect and to acknowledge that he had received the message.

“The other reason was to let her know that there’s at least one person on campus, and I supposed that there are more, actually, I know that there are more,” he said. “But I’m one person on campus who really doesn’t agree with this presently prevalent approach to the issue of homosexual behavior.”

In his statement, the chancellor said that the issue will be addressed within the administration, while respecting due process and the rights of all involved individuals.

“It is our responsibility to address the appropriateness of the time and place of expression and whether the intent or result of the speech inhibits the educational process with which we as faculty and staff are entrusted,” he said.

In response to the chancellor’s remarks, Hilton said he is embarrassed for both his actions and that he has put the chancellor in the position he is in now.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is a mess I made and they are having to spend good money on cleaning it up and I just feel bad for it,” Hilton said.

Hilton also said that he is apologetic to the people he offended and he intends on cooperating in full with any administrative response.

Associate professor of sociology Pamela Forman, along with assistant professor of communication and journalism Ellen Mahaffy, co-led the WMNS 422 course in charge of the festival, said that when she first heard of the e-mail exchange between Hilton and Kazik, she felt dismay, but it was followed by conviction.

“This is why we’re doing the work that we’re committed to on campus to improve the LGBT climate,” she said.

Mahaffy said that they were most conflicted with the use of his position to make statements. She added that they advised Kazik not to react to Hilton’s e-mails.

“The idea is that we don’t want this to be blown out of proportion … obviously one individual has specific viewpoints and this individual is not going through the proper channels,” Mahaffy said.

Kazik, the director of the festival, said that this issue isn’t about any one person.

“This isn’t about me, this isn’t about Dr. Hilton exactly,” Kazik said. “This sheds light on an underlying issue. I want people to remember the film festival as a celebration and time of awareness, rather than a time of controversy.”

Mahaffy said she thinks the best outcome of this event is increased visibility more acceptance of LGBT. She said the festival, along with the university’s equity, diversity and inclusivity initiative have been positive, and they’re hoping to continue it.

“This is an opportunity for students to feel empowered, to be able to do something that they are committed to and have a passion about,” she said.

View the e-mailsĀ as PDFs.