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Students at Christopher Newport University protest controversial tweet by university employee

CNU students say they are offended by a recent controversial Tweet from the university's scholar-in-residence, Sophia Nelson, and are calling for her removal.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Sophia Nelson responded to a Tweet by Vanity about Superman's son, Jonathan Kent, coming out as bisexual in a DC comic book. Nelson is also an author and public speaker who teaches in the Christopher Newport University's College of Arts and Humanities. 

Nelson calls out the portrayal of bisexual characters in a comic book, saying, "I don't get why this is necessary. What if Christian parents of children reading comic books don't want their kids exposed to bisexual characters?"

Groups of students formed a protest on campus Monday afternoon in response to the entire situation. Many gathered with flags and signed a petition to remove Sophia Nelson from the university.

After seeing this Tweet, students at Christopher Newport University called on President Paul Trible to take disciplinary action. In response, President Trible sent this email out to the university:

"We will do two things in response.

First - we will help our family heal.  I am grateful for those groups and individuals that began personal outreach immediately.  Support and compassion are being offered in many ways - friend to friend, colleague to colleague, mentor to student.  SDEC and the Student Government - thank you for hosting the student conversation session Friday evening.  Thanks also to the Student Affairs team and to our DEI and Title IX directors, and to Dr. Geoffrey Klein.  Emails, calls and meetings are a first step toward understanding and addressing the anger and the pain.

Second – we will do the work.  Christopher Newport intentionally creates and values our community of diversity, equity and inclusion.  We have a powerful University statement about that.  It is at the heart of who we are.  We also value and protect freedom of speech, and have a powerful statement about that as well. Upholding that freedom is most important when it is hard – when ideas conflict and opinions differ fiercely.  In this moment it is important that we live into both of these university commitments.

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.

We look forward to the hard, complex conversations through which we will learn, model, and embrace true, honorable discourse as a lifetime commitment."

However, students say they feel like this is not enough. 

CNU sophomore Abigail Honeycutt says she felt like students now don't feel comfortable with this language within the university. Honeycutt also identifies as LGBTQ.

"It was heartbreaking to know someone you go to for mentoring and support doesn't believe we should have rights or doesn't believe that we exist and that we're valid," Honeycutt said in response to Nelson's Tweet.

More than 250 students signed the petition at the protest, calling for the removal of Sophia Nelson from CNU. President Trible said Nelson's words caused 'damage and pain' to the university, but did not say if Nelson will receive disciplinary action.

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