Andrews University Lands on Shame List and LGBT Students Respond

“I think one of the hardest times is when you're just sitting in vespers or church and everything is fine... until the speaker says something negative about homosexuality and how wrong and sinful it is. Suddenly the people around you and the congregation echo their amens and you've never felt so small before. And then in the dorm and on campus people proudly proclaim their homophobic slurs/comments and your friends laugh along. You feel like no matter how good, how friendly, how Christ-like you try to be, no one will like you if they knew the real you. And then you truly feel alone.”

Written by Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition (IAGC) President, Jonathan Doram, during his Freshman year at Andrews University, these words reflect how difficult life can be if you’re an LGBT+ student on a Seventh-day Adventist campus. In addition to normal college stressors like handling classes and eating in the school cafeteria every day, you must navigate the fraught terrain of reconciling your faith, sexuality, and gender identity in sometimes very difficult environments (to put it mildly).

To underscore this point, this week Campus Pride, a national non-profit dedicated to helping create safer college campuses for LGBT students, announced its updated Shame List which calls out the “shameful acts of religion-based prejudice.” Andrews University made the list, partly for its refusal to allow an official LGBT+ group on campus. Although there is AULL4One, an unofficial group that seeks to “create a safe and supportive space for LGBT+ students,” they are not allowed to meet on-campus or advertise to find others who may need help.

In a recent interview, Jonathan Doram, now a Senior at Andrews, stated the following in response to the Shame List, “I think it’s just a wake-up call – that we can keep working harder... view it as a chance to grow and learn from this, that next year we are not on the list.”

Andrews University issued a statement in response to the Shame List:

At Andrews University, we are strongly committed to non-discrimination in the admission and enrollment of our students on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. We recognize that LGBT students may be marginalized on faith-based campuses. As a result, in the past few years, we have actively worked alongside our LGBT student community to more fully realize our commitment to creating a harassment-free environment for all students.

Andrews is proud of its LGBT students, and they have contributed in many important ways to the University’s faith and learning community. We will continue to invite their participation as the University seeks to create a campus culture that is reflective of the Seventh-day Adventist commitment to biblical faithfulness, which includes demonstrating care and compassion for all persons.

Unfortunately, the Shame List omitted mention of the growth that has recently happened on campus. During his interview, Jonathan also mentioned how Andrews is blessed with a Student Life team who is “willing to work with students. They want to have dialogue with us...and that’s why I have hope for Andrews.”

As a product of these conversations, the school just released its most comprehensive-to-date Framework for Relating to Sexual Orientation Differences on the Campus of Andrews University. The framework came to fruition after a year-long process of conversations by two university taskforces. One of them, the Teen Homelessness Taskforce, sought to understand family risk factors for Adventist LGBT youth and local/regional needs.

Doram, who served on the LGBT Student Life Practice and Policies Taskforce, shared some of the process: “The beginning of the year started off with listening sessions, where LGBT+ students bravely shared their stories. Although the framework is not perfect – for example, transgender-inclusive policies are not included as of yet1 – it reflects an intentional effort to truly listen and care for our LGBT+ family.” The guiding mission for the taskforce is: How should Andrews University, as a Seventh-day Adventist University, operationalize the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on homosexuality, marriage and same-sex unions in a way that is faithful to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and provides compassionate care for LGBT students?2 

In light of these recent events, it’s helpful to ask, “How do LGBT+ students actually feel about life on Andrews’ campus?” Reactions to the Shame List and policy update have been mixed. While some note the important step Andrews has taken, there is worry over the policy caution against student advocacy in public settings. We have included a sampling of student responses below.

...I actually came to Berrien Springs for my graduate education because of the efforts of students to create an inclusive space for LGBTQ Adventists like myself on a campus where we believe God lives, works, and makes a difference in each one of us... I heard about the AULL4One group via Twitter while searching for Adventists just like me who needed to be themselves but still needed God. Here was a group of kids younger than me who had suffered the same scars from snide remarks in Sabbath School classes and academy classrooms as I did. But on this campus, it wasn't outside the realm of reason for them to stand up and say we had the right to participate in the fellowship of believers and students just like anyone else... I'm disappointed that Andrews is on the shame list of unsafe campuses for LGBTQ students. But at least an effort is being made to be inclusive... It's my earnest prayer that it happens well before more people suffer long-term mental and emotional harm, or even death, from an overall culture where marginalizing and discrimination is the proudly upheld status quo…” Anonymous

...the Student Life policy/framework that has been put in place is something that I never would have considered possible within an Adventist institution... Even though the culture and environment for us has improved, there are still situations where I don’t feel comfortable openly expressing my sexuality. My hope is that by working towards a better campus for LGBT students, the people who need to feel safe on this campus will be able to without a doubt...” – Amy Beisiegel, Senior, Graphic Design

...Rereading the "Student Life Policy" made me feel distinctly that I did not have the equal opportunity of finding a life partner or even of living as my whole person. While others in the Adventist church do not have to adopt my personal beliefs, I feel that campus policy prohibiting what I say or do in regards to the LGBTQ community goes against part of what makes up the core of Christian (and SDA) faith. It is these policies that, personally, cause me to feel like less of a person.”Anonymous

...As for the shame list, I was a little surprised we were on there. Andrews is a Christian campus and is moving forward as fast as both political sides of the spectrum will let them...I think the new policy was very inclusive (aside from trans issues) about saying that we are all apart of the Andrews community. It makes me feel more apart of the community here especially considering that they even acknowledge my existence as a lesbian...there's always room for improvement and we're willing to work with Andrews to make it a better experience for all!”Alexis Thomas,Junior, Family Studies

The IAGC, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is a group of student-leaders dedicated to creating safe spaces on their university campuses where open discussions can occur. To further its mission, the IAGC will be launching an October fundraiser campaign to help LGBT+ students. As we will be sharing news, students’ stories, and updates throughout the upcoming months, we invite you to follow us on our Faceboook page. Our goal is for every LGBT+ student coming to an Adventist campus to know that they are loved and they are not alone. We want these immensely valued students to know there are countless individuals who are taking a stand for their voices to be heard.

If you have any questions or would like to personally reach out to the IAGC, please contact our President, Jonathan Doram, at iagc.sda@gmail.com or our Director of Marketing & Public Relations, Jefferson Clark, at iagc.southern@gmail.com.

 

Notes:

1. A smaller sub-committee has been appointed within the larger taskforce with a specific assignment to continue to consider the University’s response to transgender students, as this group works in tandem with the developing position of the denomination on this issue.

2. The Adventist Church’s official position on homosexuality can be found here.

 

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