PRIDE! Kent requests Wheeler’s suspension be lifted


PRIDE! Kent wrote a letter requesting to have Kent State wrestler Sam Wheeler’s suspension lifted. Wheeler was suspended from the wrestling team after tweeting sexually insensitive statements earlier in the season.

Kara Taylor

Junior wrestler Sam Wheeler’s suspension will not be lifted for this weekend’s MAC wrestling championships despite support from PRIDE! Kent to lift his suspension and support him in his diversity training.

PRIDE! Kent’s executive board wrote the open letter to lift Wheeler’s suspension and instead encourage campus-wide education about the LGBTQ lifestyle and community.

The letter–drafted Feb 24–stated that PRIDE! Kent wanted to make Wheeler’s suspension “less of a matter of punishment and more a matter of education,” after he tweeted anti-gay remarks in response to NFL Draft hopeful Michael Sam announcing he was gay.

“From our vantage point, there remain real unaddressed issues at hand. It is our belief that this suspension may feed into even greater separation of social circles which could and should be meeting together and collaborating together,” the letter read. “It is our desire to request Sam Wheeler’s suspension be lifted, and in its stead, we propose extending to him an opportunity for dialogue with us.”

PRIDE! Kent president Brandon Stephens said the letter was sent to Joel Nielsen and other administration within the athletics department, The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Center for Student Involvement and Greg Jarvie, the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.

“Out of all the departments I sent the letter to, I only heard back from Joel Nielsen,” said Stephens. “He did not specify whether his suspension would be lifted or the goal of the education plan.”

Nielsen responded to the letter via email stating he appreciated the thoughtful letter and ideas regarding Wheeler’s suspension, and he is currently undergoing an educational plan in consultation with the leadership in the diversity, equity and inclusion office.

The education process Wheeler is undergoing is strictly in the hands of Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  PRIDE! Kent has asked to be a part of the process.

Suzanne Holt, director of women’s studies and advisor for PRIDE!, said PRIDE! was denied participation in the education process and the conversation they wanted to have is currently inactive. However, she said she received a call from Wheeler’s lawyer saying he may be interested in having a sit down talk with the members of PRIDE!

Holt said after the situation with Wheeler, it seemed like a perfect opening to have a heartfelt, honest conversation among students and say ‘You know, I don’t get you’ and ‘I don’t get you either’.

“It struck me as unfortunate that the students affected the most by the event could not be included in the process,” Holt said. “Our early hope in writing the letter was to organize a campus-wide conversation. How are things going to improve if we don’t have these conversations?”

Aaron Chimenti, assistant director of football and wrestling, said this week Wheeler will not be wrestling in the 2014 MAC Wrestling Championship taking place at the M.A.C. Center from March 8-9. Kent State Athletic Director Joel Nielsen declined to comment.

Sam Thomas, a sophomore psychology major and PRIDE! member, supports PRIDE!’s initiatives of wanting to be involved in the process and talking and educating Wheeler instead of targeting him negatively.

Drew Canfield, a sophomore sociology major and activism initiative chairman of PRIDE!, expressed disappointment at the process thus far.

“I am a little disappointed that there is no open dialogue about this situation taking place,” Canfield said. “I just really hope at some point we have an open dialogue because it is our campus, and we should have a voice.”

Contact Kara Taylor at [email protected].