For over a year, Pepperdine’s administration has been in negotiations with the students of Reach OUT, an unrecognized gay-straight alliance, in an effort to promote inclusivity toward LGBT students.
Pepperdine students often struggle to be honest about their sexual orientation because they fear rejection from their peers as well as the risk of losing their scholarships and leadership opportunities. Moreover, professors do not feel comfortable speaking on the issue, worrying that they will be denied tenure or research grants.
Until now, the university’s policies have created an atmosphere of silence and anxiety that alienates not only the LGBT student population but also anyone concerned for their well-being. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) likewise expressed unease in its 2011 accreditation report that Pepperdine’s “climate of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’” prevents it from appearing “safe for open discourse.”
Administrators have established a Building Bridges committee in response to some of these concerns, but the committee is primarily generating recommendations that, even if adopted, would not provide LGBT students with a sense of community.
That is why on November 9 Reach OUT applied to become a student organization. On December 13, however, administrators rejected the application. This is the fourth time that a gay-straight alliance has been denied or discouraged from applying.
Administrators are concerned that recognition of Reach OUT would “imply to many that Pepperdine is not honoring our affiliation with the Churches of Christ,” according to a statement released by the Office of Student Affairs. Reach OUT’s mission, however, is not antithetical to the religious mission of the university. In fact, we respect and reinforce it.
First, Reach OUT states explicitly in its constitution that it does not endorse sexual activity. Administrators, however, also want Reach OUT to explicitly condemn sexual activity. Meanwhile, they do not demand that other student groups (including political groups and the student newspaper, the Graphic) reiterate all of Pepperdine’s stances.
Second, Reach OUT underlines the university’s affirmation statement that “truth has nothing to fear from investigation” by providing students with an open forum to discuss LGBT issues.
Third, we reflect President Andrew K. Benton’s hope, expressed in his 2001 statement Envisioning a Bold Future, that Pepperdine will become a “clear reflection of the communities we serve” by creating a safe space where LGBT and straight students can share their experiences with others who have walked the same journey. We strive to meet all students where they are, whether they come from traditional backgrounds or otherwise, so that they feel at home in Pepperdine’s community.
Finally, by dispelling the negative stereotypes of LGBT issues that still abound at Pepperdine, we help to ensure that all Pepperdine students feel loved and respected.
For these reasons, Pepperdine should rescind its previous decision and instead grant equal recognition to LGBT students by approving Reach OUT’s application.
* Anyone may sign, but please note in the petition if you are a Pepperdine student, alumni, staff member, faculty member, a member of the Church of Christ, or otherwise affiliated with the university. If you have any questions, please e-mail Alexander Cooper or Lindsay Jakows at firstname.lastname@example.org.