Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was originally published.
The senior leadership team will update the student handbook for the next academic year to clarify policies for same-sex relationships. Students who are employed by the university will not be permitted to be in a same-sex dating relationship.
Dr. Phil Schubert, university president, said the SLT created the policy based on the guidelines provided by the Board of Trustees. The Board has affirmed marriage between one man and one woman. Schubert said the current policy prohibits students from sexual activity or same-sex marriages because they would not fall under this definition of marriage. The new policy will clarify the sexual stewardship policy for student workers specifically. The university will not release official language of the new policy until the 2018-19 Student Handbook is published in August.
“It’s consistent with where we’ve been as far back as any of us can remember,” Schubert said.”The further clarification is that employees would also be asked to refrain from same-sex dating relationships.”
The handbook currently states: “Abilene Christian University affirms the biblical model, in which sexual relations are experienced only within the marriage bond between a man and a woman. Relationships or their behavioral expressions outside of this example are not condoned by Abilene Christian University and are subject to disciplinary or other appropriate action.”There will be no changes to the reporting of violations, and Schubert said a report or allegation would result in conversations on a case-by-case basis with the employee in question. The rule does not apply to students who are receiving scholarship funds from the university. Only paid employees of the university would fall under this rule.
The university will not ask about a person’s sexuality at the time of their application to work or attend the university.
“We have a responsibility to be clear about our expectations of conduct for students and employees,” Schubert said.
Several church-affiliated universities, including Harding University and Hardin-Simmons University, have sought to be protected from discrimination lawsuits by filing for Title IX religious exemptions provided by the Department of Education. Schubert said the Board of Trustees has decided not to request a waiver for ACU at this time.
Under the old policy, it was assumed from the language that student workers could not have same-sex relationships, said Emily Keshler-Dosa, a recent graduate who worked for the university and came out after graduating. She served as an area director of a residence hall during her junior and senior years, and at the time her relationship with another female student was not public.
“We were not public and we were very much in the closet,” Keshler-Dosa said. “A few of our closest friends knew slowly over time.”
Although there was no specific policy for LGBT employees, Keshler-Dosa said Residence Life historically did not allow student employees to work if they were in a same-sex relationship. She knew if she came out, she would be asked not to apply for jobs the next year. When she officially came out after graduating, she was still working at the Depot and was almost fired, but since she was already planning to leave a week later, she was allowed to stay.
“In all honesty, people cared about me as a person and cared about the impact I made on the staff, not who I was in a relationship with,” Keshler-Dosa said.
Despite having to keep her relationship secret, Keshler-Dosa said she still wanted to stay at the university. Another factor in her choice to stay was that her parents were paying for tuition and they did not support her sexuality.
“I loved ACU for the most part, I didn’t want to leave,” Keshler-Dosa said. “I had some great friends and mentors that helped me and supported me during my coming out process.”
At the time she was a student, she said she was still coming out so the way the university handled policies wasn’t a “deal-breaker” for her. However, she said that if she had come out earlier, it could have been a deal-breaker because she would not have been allowed to work in Res Life.
Gabby Thompson, co-leader of Voice, a student group for LGBT education and support, said it seems like the policy will hold student employees to the same standards as all employees.
“If the university is trying to treat everyone equally, then they’re going to treat all their employees the same,” said Thompson, a senior communications major from New Braunfels.
She said the role of Voice is not to react to policies, but to serve students through education and support.
“Voice is going to continue to do whatever we can to do our mission of supporting and educating students,” Thompson said.