Dozens of graduating students gave Seattle Pacific University’s interim president pride flags as they were handed their diplomas during Sunday’s commencement ceremony.
Over 50 students handed Interim President Pete Menjares the rainbow flags, notes and other pride items, as they refused to shake his hand on stage, protesting the university’s discriminatory employment policy against LGBTQ+ people.
A now viral video showing a montage of the action was posted on TikTok by Associated Students of Seattle Pacific, the student group leading the ongoing student sit-in protest over the Board of Trustees’ recent decision to uphold the “Employee Lifestyle Expectations” policy.
The university policy prohibits full-time staff members from participating in “same-sex sexual activity,” among other things.
“So much of our college experience has has been engulfed by this issue,” said recent SPU graduate Laur Lugos, who was SPU student government president. “It just felt like this was the appropriate way to go out.”
Lugos is helping organize the ongoing sit-in taking place in the campus administration building, Demaray Hall, which has lasted 20 days far.
She said she handed Menjares a handwritten letter Sunday, telling him to resign and expressing her dislike of “Christian niceness,” which she described as superficial kindness when Christians are actively participating in discrimination.
The note detailed how Lugos learned a lot at SPU, most importantly how to care for the people Christians “lock out.” In the letter, she said she promised to do what she can to “disrupt and dismantle” ideologies and institutional powers that keep people out and away from “the love of Christ.”
In a statement Monday evening, Menjares said Sunday was a “wonderful day to celebrate” with the graduates and that those who took the time to give him a flag, showed him how they felt. He said he respects their view.
Students, faculty and alumni will continue to call on the trustees to reverse its decision to uphold the policy, which asks SPU employees to make “behavioral and lifestyles choices consistent with moral integrity, social consciousness and effective Christian witness.”
Tuesday will mark 500 hours of organized sit-ins, Lugos said, though outrage and protest against the policy has been going on several years.
The board upheld the policy last year, voting against making changes to the hiring practices at the private Christian school in Queen Anne. It was followed by a vote of “no confidence” in the trustees by faculty members.
Additionally, an adjunct professor sued the university alleging he was denied a promotion because he’s gay. A work group was then created with the goal to make the SPU campus more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people and recommended the policy be removed, but the board rejected it last month.
Hundreds of people have signed up for sit-in protest shifts and plan to be there until demands are met, Lugos said.
Previously stated demands include for the board of trustees to reveal how each member voted and for the trustees against the policy to condemn those who voted to uphold it.
The student group also is demanding the resignation of those in favor of the policy by July or they might face a lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to fulfill their responsibility to act in the best interest of the community, Lugos said.
Students are collecting donations to help with any legal action.