A group of Seattle Pacific University faculty and students is pushing back on what they say is a “devastating” recent decision by the school’s Board of Trustees to uphold, again, its hiring policy that discriminates based on sexual orientation.
About 200 students and staff walked out of class Tuesday to rally outside the campus administration building, waving pride flags, holding signs and shouting, “We want gay staff!” Students buzzed kazoos, banged on buckets and cheered — one student played a keyboard as speakers addressed the crowd before a sit-in began inside the building.
The Board of Trustees voted last week against making changes to the hiring practices at the private Christian school in Queen Anne, as pressure mounts from students and faculty to nix the school’s employee lifestyle policy that prohibits staff from participating in “sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University’s understanding of Biblical standards,” including same-sex marriage.
Students and staff have also pushed for the school to make changes to its statement on human sexuality, which says “sexual experience is intended between a man and a woman.”
Andrew Tedmon, an SPU senior, said the board’s take on sexuality and its hiring policy makes him ashamed to be associated with the school. “I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends and met amazing people here, but to now have my name permanently associated with a homophobic institution … it’s embarrassing.”
Tedmon said it’s especially frustrating because many students and staff on campus disagree with the board, and it’s causing some to consider transferring or leaving. He said he had heard that some alumni have decided to withhold donations until the policy is removed. He plans to do the same after graduating if the policy hasn’t changed.
The board’s vote comes after a campus work group made recommendations for changes this spring.
The group was asked to explore ways the school could better address issues around gender and sexual orientation after a faculty vote of no confidence in the board after an adjunct nursing professor was denied a promotion and subsequently sued the school, alleging he did not get promoted because he is gay.
But before the trustees could vote on the work group’s recommendation last week, the Free Methodist Church USA, the university’s religious affiliate, released a statement saying the school would lose its status in the church if it removed the hiring policy.
In a statement following the board’s decision to retain the policy, board Chair Cedric Davis said members made the choice they believed was most in line with the school’s “historical identity as a Christian university.”
Pamela Styborski, a student leader at SPU who helped organize students, said the discriminatory hiring policy limits opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to connect with like-minded mentors and educators, and runs counter to the school’s messaging that it strives to be more diverse and inclusive.
“It’s hurtful to students because we don’t see the representation brought into the classroom,” she said.
Styborski said the effort to get the policy changed has only intensified in the past year with “endless support” from professors. The Faculty Council, an executive committee, is expected to consider official action to keep pushing for the removal of the policy — and potentially, the board.
Kevin Neuhouser, a sociology professor at SPU, co-chaired the work group that submitted the report and recommendations to the board. He said the trustees’ decision to leave the current policy in place was a “gut punch,” but that he plans to continue advocating for change on behalf of his LGBTQ+ students, and the students and faculty who support a more inclusive campus.
“I cannot in good conscience stand aside and give up,” he said.
Neuhouser said he recommended the council consider three items for immediate action: Vote on the work group’s recommendations, prepare a second vote of no confidence, and if it passes, ask that board members resign.
He said the root of the issue isn’t whether the school should maintain its Christian identity; instead it’s about what it means to be a Christian and maintain policies that reflect what a majority of the campus community wants.
“This is about what it means to follow Jesus, and we feel like the board has lost its way.”
At Tuesday’s rally, interim university president Pete Menjares spoke to the crowd, saying that the board of trustees will host a town hall Thursday morning to hear students’ concerns. It will not be open to the public.