The university clarified its sexual stewardship policy for students, faculty and staff in an email last Monday from Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university.
Wording in the previous policy referred to all employees generically, but the administration has reviewed and clarified that student employees in general will be considered students first and are governed by the Student Code of Conduct rather than the Employee Code of Conduct, which prohibits “same-sex dating, relationships, or marriage; or sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman.”
Schubert said a small number of students employment roles considered to have spiritual mentoring responsibilities, such as resident assistants and summer camp counselors, would include similar restrictions within the job descriptions.
“While the previous approach on sexual stewardship centered on disciplinary action, it will now focus on developing relationships with students, reinforcing what we believe the Bible teaches regarding healthy relationships and walking alongside them as they grow in their faith,” Schubert said in an email.
Schubert said the policy changed the approach with students, particularly those as employees of the university. Regarding faculty and staff, the policy remains the same – same-sex dating relationships are not permitted.
“We believe that significant spiritual mentorship is taking place in those areas and we’re asking those individuals, be it student, faculty or staff to behave and support the university’s values on relationships,” Schubert said. “In this particular circumstance, it’s the model of marriage being between a man and a woman, and we would ask that they be in relationships that conform to a traditional model. That is a requirement of being in those two roles as students.”
According to Schubert, the primary goal of conversations regarding LGBTQ+ policies throughout the past year has been to listen and gain perspective as well as to commit to clarifying the decisions at the right time.
“The Board of Trustees’ guidance on sexual stewardship affirms our commitment to the traditional view that sexual activity is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman,” Schubert said in the email. “As a result, our long-standing policies for faculty and staff remain in place.”
Leading up to the policy reconsideration, the Senior Leadership Team invited student leaders to engage in conversation as voices for the student body. Ty Kelley, executive president of Student Government Association, participated in discussions as a mediator between students and administration.
As a student, Kelley said he was surprised at how invested the Senior Leadership Team was in the sexual stewardship policy.
“They didn’t want to make a decision fast,” Kelley said. “I applaud them for having the conversation and being so ready to invite different groups and hear different perspectives. They all personally wanted what was best for the student.”
Over the summer, SGA released a statement in response to a column in the Abilene Reporter-News by former associate director of residence life Jenny Boyer, saying: “Student Government Association (SGA) supports the leadership of our university, which is faced with difficult and challenging decisions every day. We do not support policies that discriminate, marginalize or dismiss any student or group of this university. Student Government Association has always kept, and will continue to keep, all students at the forefront of our advocacy regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or background.”
Because of SGA’s 30-day policy, the statement is no longer available.
Kelley said SGA plans to take on a bigger role in leading the conversation now that administration has a foundation for the policy.
“SGA has to be the leader of that discussion. I envision us continuing to have these conversations through things like forums. We exist to represent the student voice as much as possible,” Kelley said.
Since the email, Schubert said the response has been positive, but the conversations will continue to help develop policy further, possibly including more open forums.
“Along the way, our journey is to really look at this broader landscape of relationships and sexual stewardship for all students,” Schubert said. “This is not just an LGBT issue, but I realize that is typically what the media is interested in covering. This is a broader issue, and as a community of people, how do we want all of us to live in the context of sexual stewardship.”
Schubert said the university has tried to create environments to listen to other viewpoints and interpretations as well as promote dialogue with open questions and answers that leave nothing but clarity.
“Often we find that in this conversation, there are frequent misinterpretations and misconceptions that need to be clarified so that they don’t create a hurtful or harmful situation.”
In the sexual stewardship section of the Student Code of Conduct, the university reinforced its belief in the Bible as true and reliable. Regardless of differing interpretations of scripture pertaining to same-sex relationships, the Code of Conduct says the university encourages all students to “engage in this issue with Christian care and compassion.”
Schubert said he does not anticipate any substantive changes in the near future, but encourages “healthy and constructive dialogue on these important issues, modeling how a Christian community can best glorify God and promote unity even when we see certain matters differently.”