Posted on 06 February 2014.
“There is a misconception that students who openly identify as part of the LGBTQ community are automatically dismissed from the institution or suspended, and that’s not true,” said Andrew Parker, dean of student conduct and community standards.
The premise for Parker’s explanation: Indiana Wesleyan University’s Student Governement Association hosted an forum on homsexuality, Thursday Jan. 31. The event helped faculty and students to begin a conversation at IWU about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer) issues.
“Ultimately our goal in doing this is to help people better engage more appropriately, and talk about the issue and make steps at honoring those people who maybe think differently,” said SGA President Tim Scurlock (jr).
Stephanie Munger (so) recounted a conversation she had with a fellow student before the event. She spoke to the student who made a remark about the forum being in a public area, Barnes Student Center Commons.
“He said, ‘I thought it would be hidden in a small room, somewhere,’” Munger said “This is exactly why we are having this event.”
Heaven Mathews (fr) attended the forum and said she was excited to see what was going to happen at an event she didn’t even think a university like IWU would have.
“I expect there to be a lot of ‘homosexuality is bad and this is why,’” Mathews said before the forum.
SGA selected individuals at IWU with experience on LGBTQ issues. The panel included professors Dr. David Riggs, Dr. Erin Devers and Dr. Rob Thompson. David Priest (jr) and Kari Jenkins (sr) represented the student perspective on the panel.
Devers, assistant professor of social psychology, presented her research which looked at what 250 heterosexual IWU students thought and felt about homosexuality. According to Devers’ research, many students share Mathews’ opinions about LGBTQ issues.
Devers said an overwhelming amount of IWU students did not think there should be any discriminatory practices against LGBTQ members, according to her findings.
“When we look at both contact and discrimination we’re seeing there are some welcoming attitudes that are there,” Devers said. “Although, 80 percent of our students, when asked the question ‘Do you think homosexuality is a sin?’ would report that they think it’s a sin.”
In the forum, Priest explained the history behind the term “homosexuality” and Thompson, associate professor of graduate counseling, described the levels of sexual identity. Riggs, executive director of John Wesley Honors College, challenged the audience to ask themselves difficult questions, concerning how homosexuality is categorized in society and how IWU welcomes LGBTQ members into the community.
“How do we conceive about the significance of what it means to be male and female? We have to start thinking about how we see significance,” said Riggs
Throughout the event, Riggs said Christians and the university need to define the difference between sexuality and physical intimacy.
“Identifying as a homosexual would not be a violation of university policy,” Parker explained, added that a violation occurs when homosexual acts are physically performed. Parker described physical acts as kissing, and any acts that are equated culturally with homosexual behavior.
“We are going to have to deal with this as a campus community eventually,” Riggs said. “It’s just a question of whether we’re going to do it proactively, and are we going to do it rooted in the gospel and rooted in the theological distinctive of the Wesleyan tradition, or are we going to do it in the offensive way where others are setting the terms for us?”
IWU President Dr. David Wright came to the forum to support Scurlock and SGA. Although Wright was not directly involved with the forum, he offered his explanation of the need for the event.
“We have LGBT people in our community who go to school here and so we need to talk about what it means to have the spirit of Christ in our relationships with folks that identify with this community who are here,” said Wright.
Jenkins spoke about her senior capstone, which she wrote a blog, ‘A Story Untold,’ about IWU students who associate with the LGBTQ community. Jenkins explained how LGBTQ IWU students feel is based on their fellow students.
“Our language perpetuates our culture,” said Jenkins. “So what we’re saying to friends or making jokes, those are the things that are going to identify our community.”
During the Q-and-A, students asked questions about IWU’s policy on homosexuality and the treatment of those who identity with that community on campus.
The IWU student handbook under the ‘Exercise Self-Control’ section reads: “Those acts which are expressly forbidden in Scripture including theft, lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, profanity, vulgarity, adultery, homosexual behavior, premarital sex, drunkenness, gluttony, immodesty, intentional self-harm and occult practice will not be practice by members of the Indiana Wesleyan community, either on or off campus.”
“We try to be as fair, and loving and redemptive as possible throughout the process,” said Parker. “And I don’t think individuals based on their violation of university policy are treated differently.”
Another student asked during the forum’s Q-and-A why IWU doesn’t have a structure where students feel safe and can talk about their sexuality.
Riggs said that last spring for the first time, IWU had a series of classes devoted to same-sex attraction. Riggs explained he has never in his 13 years as a professor had a student come to his office and talk about sexuality, but in the context of that class, people felt comfortable to have those type of conversations.
Thompson mentioned during the forum that diversity coordinators receive training at Ball State University’s Safezone, a training program offering workshops to educate about LGBTQ issues. Thompson referred to diversity coordinators as students within IWU’s residence halls identified and trained to interact with fellow students about homosexuality and other related topics. IWU’s director of Intercultural Student Services office, Kyra Pappas spoke up from the audience and explained that ISS office is a safe place for students to come with these issues.
Although Scurlock said he has limited say in the establishments of structure, he said he believes in Wright’s leadership.
“I think with Dr. Wright continuing to cast his vision for where IWU is headed next, there are going to be structures put in place to accommodate some of this underserved community,” said Scurlock. “He’s going to put structure in place that sort of identify the weaknesses and get at them.”
Thompson suggested a change in the policy regarding resident directors reporting information concerning students’ sexuality. He questioned the different disciplinary actions for sexual misconduct between heterosexual couples verses homosexual couples.
Parker cleared up the confusion by stating from a punitive standpoint, the punishment for violations for sexual misconduct is identical for both heterosexual and homosexual students. Parker said he and others who conduct handbook violation try to be fair, loving and redemptive throughout the process.
“Some of the educational outcomes might look a little differently throughout that process, but ultimately student will be treated the same, with the same level of respect and the same level of love as they go through the conduct process,” said Parker.
Near the end of the forum a student walked up to the microphone and asked if the university is going to change its policy on homosexuality.
“I don’t think so,” Priest answered
“You’re not going to see policy that’s going to change beyond what the Wesleyan Church’s stance on homosexuality is,” answered Thompson “It’s not going to divorce itself from the Wesleyan Church, because we are a Wesleyan institution.”
The Wesleyan Church’s statement on homosexuality is on the church’s official website.
“We do not, cannot, and will not endorse homosexual activity as a lifestyle; just as we cannot, do not, and will not endorse all other kinds of behaviors that displease God. But we also do not, cannot, and will not endorse condemning, hate-filled, self-righteous attitudes toward those in the gay community,” according to the website.
Parker said he doesn’t foresee IWU’s policy changing anytime in the near future, but appreciates that Wright is engaging the issue.
“This is much more than an issue for those individuals who do identify [as LGBTQ,]” Parker said “It’s not just an issue. It involves real people. I think that’s where we need to have sensitivity around the issue when we are engaging in conversation, but I also think it’s vital we have that conversation.”
The panelists answered the questions as best they could, and Scurlock clarified they were speaking from research, interest and experience, but do not reflect IWU’s stance or policies.
When the forum ended, audience members formed groups about the room to talk about the discussion of event. Conversation about the event and the LGBTQ community, in general were popular topics of discussion.
“Our aim was to sit down have a conversation that people don’t have and get people better at honoring those that are different, that have a different outlooks,” said Scurlock.“I think we were successful.”
What do you think of SGA’s open forum and IWU’s policy on homosexuality? Let us know in the comments!