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University seeks to clarify student hiring after complaints

Belmont University is taking steps to reevaluate its resident assistant selection procedures and to clarify preexisting policies in response to students’ complaints that they were unfairly rejected because of their faith.

The university sees student workers as “students first and employees second,” which means the “Christian hiring preference” the university applied toward faculty ideally should not apply toward students, said Provost Dr. Thomas Burns.

“We haven’t done that well in this case, and we admit that we made a mistake,” said Burns. “We are sorry and we’ve apologized to the students impacted.”

In an effort to rectify the situation, the Office of Residence Life has reviewed all of this year’s RA applications which did not make it past the initial stage. The office found “as many as six applications” which could have been unfairly rejected for any reason, faith-based or otherwise, said Burns.

The university is extending to those students the opportunity to continue in the interview process, he said.

Additionally, administration plans to reach out to all hiring managers responsible for student employment to make them “aware of what the policy has been” so situations like this can be avoided in the future, said Burns.

Furthermore, there are plans to review all of the rubrics used in evaluating students for employment “to make sure we don’t find errors or inconsistencies between the application process and the hiring process,” said Burns, “which we didn’t in this case.”

These measures all represent an effort by the university to make all students feel “comfortable and well-served” in the Belmont community, he said.

“We admit students from other faith traditions and we want to serve them well within our Christian hospitality environment,” said Burns. “So, we’re sorry. We’re sorry when things like this happen.”

One student who experienced such a faith-based rejection was freshman social work major Kawal Jooma, who was told by her residence director her RA application was denied because of her Muslim faith.

Jooma said she met Director of Residence Life Anthony Donovan Wednesday and he expressed “heartfelt apologies” for causing her or anyone distress.

Jooma appreciates the administration’s willingness to talk to her and work towards a satisfying conclusion, she said.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “It was not a fun way to begin, but the difficult start turned into something that was worth working towards – a positive change.”

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