Cross necklace incident being treated as religious discrimination case

The SSU employee's misguided request for a student employee to remove her cross necklace at freshmen orientation in late June is now being treated as a religious discrimination case. Joyce Suzuki, SSU's Title IX coordinator and managing director of employee relations and compliance, is handling the investigation after meeting with the student, Audrey Jarvis, and her representative Hiram Sasser last Monday.

Sasser, director of litigation for the nonprofit Liberty Institute, said Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications Susan Kashack verbally apologized to Jarvis on behalf of President Ruben Armiana, who was absent from the meeting. Sasser said the written apology he and Jarvis were seeking was not received.

"Joyce said that it was important to her and the university to basically go through their normal process and treat it as a religious discrimination situation," said Sasser. "And obviously that was fine, really all we were looking for - still looking for, we haven't had it yet - was a letter of apology, and a letter that she has the right to wear the cross on campus, working or not."

Suzuki said Sasser and Jarvis did not ask for a written apology when she met with them. She said treatment of the case as religious discrimination follows the CSU Executive Order 1074, which expressly allows student employees to file complaints of religious discrimination that arise out of their employment.

"Because I have not yet finished my investigation, it is hard for me to determine the severity [of this incident]," said Suzuki, "but given what I know now, I do not think that this was done with malicious intent."

The request gained significant media attention after Jarvis and Sasser interviewed with Fox News shortly after it occurred. Thousands around the country offered their thoughts; some argued that Jarvis overreacted, and others adamantly admonished SSU staff's lack of tolerance.

It has not yet been made clear what the employee's repercussions from the university will be.

Suzuki said that currently, many staff members and administrators are required to complete a two-hour online training to prevent discrimination and harassment.

"There are also several groups on campus [such as] the Academic Senate, the HUB, Associated Students and the President's Diversity Council," said Suzuki, "who are working on civility initiatives that will recognize that in order for our campus to be a positive learning and living environment, we must hold ourselves accountable to a level of behavior that is respectful and inclusive."

The Press Democrat recently reported that Jarvis was considering leaving Sonoma State.

"If I do decide to attend somewhere else, it would not be for lack of effort on the university's part," Jarvis told Press Democrat. "I have some things to figure out; I'm taking a little time for myself."

Meanwhile, Suzuki's investigation of the incident continues and Sasser is still waiting for the written apology - which he believes will coincide with the discrimination case's resolution.

"When your rights are violated, it's important to stand up for your rights because it could happen to anybody," said Sasser. "It's important to exercise your rights, and to defend them in appropriate ways."

Sasser said that once the letter has been received, the Liberty Institute will close their file on the matter and end their work with Jarvis.

"Although we cannot always prevent these types of events from happening," said Suzuki, "there are campus resources to support the individuals affected and hold accountable the individuals who commit such acts."