Students, alumni, faculty, staff and Abilene residents are reacting to changes to the sexual stewardship policy which will prohibit same-sex dating relationships for student employees.
The new sexual stewardship policy will remove language that prohibited “behavioral expressions” outside marriage between one man and one woman. In a student forum Tuesday, university president Dr. Phil Schubert and provost Dr. Robert Rhodes said the university has always had a policy that was restrictive toward same-sex dating. The new policy removes restrictions for students, while clarifying the restriction against same-sex dating for student employees.
“We’d love a policy that speaks truth, but in pure love,” Rhodes said. “And I know that any time you start to put things in writing, it doesn’t feel like that. It’s what do we do from the standpoint of how do we interpret Scripture, how do we apply that to our daily lives, and apply that to the institution?”
Schubert said that both heterosexual and LGBT students must follow the university’s value system.
“We’re calling all students to sexual purity,” Schubert said.
After Rhodes and Schubert described the Board of Trustees statement on sexual stewardship and the proposed policy, students asked questions or made comments to the senior leadership team. About 98 students attended the first session of the forum and 138 attended the second session. Several students said the policy appeared discriminatory and did not show Christian values to outsiders.
“How is this not discriminatory?” said Richard Chaz Gomez, junior musical theatre major from Houston. “You don’t know what kind of sexual activity is happening with their heterosexual counterparts. The heterosexual students I know who are student employees probably get it on a lot more than their homosexual counterparts cause their homosexual counterparts are very much trying to figure out what they believe, and it’s not easy.”
Other students asked how the policy would be enforced, what legal complications the policy could create and how it would be implemented in Residence Life. Schubert and Rhodes responded to those questions saying the policy was still under consideration, and they want student feedback on how it should be implemented.
Last weekend, a group of students created rainbow buttons with the university logo and the phrase “Love thy neighbor.” Virginia Pettit, senior computer science major from Abilene, and Robert Towell, senior computer science major from Portland, Oregon, and a few of their friends made the buttons in the Maker Lab.
Pettit said some of her friends could be affected by the policy prohibiting same-sex dating by employees. She said at first she only made 15 buttons for her and her friends to wear to the student forum. But 24 hours after she posted a photo of the button on Facebook, she had more than 100 requests for buttons.
“It’s gotten way bigger than I had expected,” Pettit said. “Based on that overwhelming positive reaction, we decided, let’s make more.”
Pettit said she even got requests from people out of state, and some people have offered money to pay for the materials.
“It’s not our goal to push them on people,” Towell said. “We just have them, and then people ask for them.”
Residence Life housing coordinator Mallory Brickman sent an email to all on-campus residents about the policy on Friday. It stated, “We recognize that there is unrest on our campus surrounding the Sexual Stewardship conversation. We want your home to be a safe space. Our goal is always that your experience in Residence Life supports you academically, spiritually, and socially.” The email also clarified the five pillars of Residence Life: advocacy, safety, intentionality, belonging, and spirituality.
Dr Richard Beck, chair of the Department of Psychology, sent an email to the department encouraging students to attend the student forum. He also wrote in the email, “But mostly I’m writing tonight to encourage our LGBTQ majors and graduate students. Many of you are discouraged, angry and disillusioned. You feel singled out and attacked. So I wanted to write you and say, on behalf of the Department of Psychology, that we love you and cherish you. Our doors and our hearts are open to you.”
Local alumni and members of the Abilene community met Saturday for the first Abilene Allies event hosted by Damon Parker, an alumnus and minister at the Refuge Church. Parker said about 70 people attended the meeting. Most of the attendees were Abilene residents, but a few students also attended. He said the group discussed ways to support the LGBT community, but it did not decide on any formal actions.
Ryan Clements, a openly gay 2015 graduate, started a Facebook page called ACU Alumni and Friends for Action after he heard about the same-sex dating policy. He said he started the page on March 9, and the group had 1,000 members within three days. The group then organized into teams and now has an official website and strategic plan.
“We are a grassroots organization that is actively organizing for change,” Clements said. “Ultimately we’re looking for change in ACU’s student employee policy so that there is no discrimination or harm towards members of the LGBT community.”
He said the group is organizing and has a storytelling team, a research team and a care team. The research team will look at the university’s current and upcoming policy implementation, a theological stance that is LGBT-affirming and the psychological effects of the policy.
“As we get our facts together, as we build up our numbers and get more organized, we’ll then formally reach out to the administration with a request for dialogue,” Clements said.