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A Letter to Walla Walla University Admin Raises Influence Questions

Walla Walla University Sign

I recently learned that the administration at my alma mater, Walla Walla University (WWU), responded to criticism aimed at freshman orientation material that addressed inclusivity and gender. This criticism initially arose from an opinion article attributed to “NewsHound.” The post attacks WWU for allowing incoming freshmen to view a video on inclusivity and gender and for employing a gay Adventist. It goes on to identify the staff member and even provides his Facebook page. 

My experience at WWU did not instill confidence that the university administration attempts to create a safe space for queer students. But even so, I was honestly surprised by the administration’s response to this anonymous criticism. Rather than condemning the blatant discrimination, John McVay, president of Walla Walla University, bowed to the request that freshman orientation be changed and did not even mention, much less defend, his own staff member (a non-white, non-straight male) who was attacked and outed by the post. A subsequent post by “NewsHound” praised McVay for intervening by disturbingly framing the moral sides as straight, white males sticking together. “The world of critical theory and social Marxism does not look fondly upon straight white guys who fail to support their LGBTQ+ agenda,” the post says. “We know this because we are straight white guys who support the biblical view of sexuality.” The deeper goal at work is revealed by this framing, which sticks those of the same gender, sexuality, and race identity together behind the veneer of faith. 

It’s impossible to adequately emphasize how unprofessional, disappointing, and truly wrong this is. The administration should be embarrassed for encouraging outside attacks by bowing to such an unprofessional and discriminatory viewpoint.

I am no enemy of WWU. Despite an administration that makes choices like this, the university manages to offer a top tier education—particularly in the history and literature department, which are full of professors who I respect with all my heart. I was able to reach my academic and career goals in part because of the way these professors challenged me and opened my mind.  

I have a question for WWU administration, Adventism, and organized religion: what is the purpose of a “church” that does not serve its diverse community? I have enormous respect for some of the religious groups and leaders in my home city of San Francisco who are dedicated to addressing the homeless crisis, keeping kids off the street, and working with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to make real change. Shout out to the Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown and the Third Street Baptist Church. 

What is WWU doing for its community, particularly those on campus who identify as LGBTQ? From my vantage point, the university administration (as well as other Adventist institutions and churches) views its primary objective as reiterating dogma and preserving “the truth.” I don’t recall reading anything like that in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life—he’s portrayed as an accepting social activist rather than a dogmatic lecturer. 

So here’s my ask of WWU:

When creating a new orientation module for incoming freshman, include discussion of diversity, inclusion, and gender identity—both from the official Adventist world and larger professional world where many will live and work—and develop an action plan to protect employees and students who may be targeted for their sexuality from online attacks.

It should be no surprise that being singled out for discriminatory attention can put individuals in a very dangerous position. At the bare minimum, the physical and online safety of students and staff should be at the top of the university’s list of priorities. 

“But the greatest of these is love”—right?

 


An attorney working in commercial litigation and health care product law, Kate M. Wittlake graduated cum laude from Walla Walla University in 2012 and earned her JD from the UC Davis School of Law in 2016.

Title image by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

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